Posts Tagged ‘Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’

Japan’s Taro Aso: “There is no such thing as a sexual harassment charge.” But his deputy repeatedly made sexually suggestive comments to a TV reporter

May 8, 2018

Japan’s Finance Minister  Taro Aso says “There is no such thing as a sexual harassment charge.”

Image result for Finance Minister Taro Aso, photos

Finance Minister Taro Aso may not be smiling for too much longer….

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Finance Minister Taro Aso on Tuesday repeated a comment that appeared to downplay an incident of alleged sexual harassment by his ministry’s top bureaucrat after already sparking protest demonstrations in a number of Japanese cities the day before.

“There is no such thing as a sexual harassment charge,” the 77-year-old former prime minister said at a regular press conference, the same remark he made on Friday during a trip to Manila.

The comment, which appeared to make light of the claims that then-Vice Finance Minister Junichi Fukuda had repeatedly made sexually suggestive comments to a TV reporter, has drawn sharp reactions from women’s rights activists, with some calling it misogynistic and permissive of sexual harassment.

Asked by reporters about such public criticisms, Aso, who doubles as deputy prime minister, said he had “merely stated a fact” while adding he has no intention of tolerating sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment perpetrators can be charged with sexual assault, rape or libel in Japan.

Seiko Noda, a minister in charge of female empowerment, said Tuesday she plans to compile legal measures to tackle sexual harassment during the ongoing Diet session.

Noda, 57, who also serves as internal affairs minister, indicated Monday she would consider introducing penalties for sexual harassment.

She also said Aso belongs to a generation that has not learned about sexual harassment and has “a totally different perception” from that of her generation.

Following Aso’s initial comments, protestors, including many women’s rights groups, took to the streets on Monday. Some lined the sidewalk in front of the Finance Ministry building in central Tokyo, while others held demonstrations in Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Sapporo.

Fukuda stepped down in late April after a weekly magazine reported that he asked the reporter “Can I give you a hug?” and “Can I touch your breasts?” and released an audio clip.

The former top bureaucrat has denied the allegations although the ministry has acknowledged he sexually harassed the female reporter and reduced his retirement benefits.

Aso himself has faced growing calls from opposition lawmakers to resign for having chosen Fukuda for the position.

The close ally of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has often made controversial comments.

In August, Aso came under fire for comments that seemed to defend Adolf Hitler’s motive behind the genocide of Jews by Nazi Germany.

“Hitler, who killed millions of people, is no good even if his motive was right,” he said. Aso later said he meant to give an example of a bad politician but retracted the remark.

 

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Signaling caution as North Korea pledges to halt nuclear and longer-range missile tests just days before key summit — Many voice skepticism

April 21, 2018

Trust But Verify

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BY JESSE JOHNSON

APR 21, 2018

North Korea announced Saturday that it had suspended nuclear and longer-range missile tests and shut down its main nuclear test site as the sanctions-hit country seeks to shift its focus to shoring up its moribund economy, state media said, less than a week before a key inter-Korean summit.

Leader Kim Jong Un called the completion of its nuclear weapons program a “great victory,” and said that “no nuclear test and intermediate-range and inter-continental ballistic rocket test-fire are necessary for the DPRK now.”

“The mission of the northern nuclear test ground has thus come to an end,” he added at a gathering of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

The party decided at the meeting that nuclear tests and ICBM launches would cease as of Saturday — the last long-range missile test was in November — and that the North’s main Punggye-ri nuclear test site will be “dismantled to transparently guarantee” the end of testing, the report said. North Korea has conducted all of its six nuclear tests since 2006 at the Punggye-ri site in the country’s northeast.

Within minutes of the report’s issuance, U.S. President Donald Trump, who is due to hold a planned summit with Kim by June to discuss the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” tweeted: “This is very good news for North Korea and the World- big progress! Look forward to our Summit.”

In a later tweet he noted that North Korea would “shut down a nuclear test site in the country’s Northern Side to prove the vow to suspend nuclear tests.”

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was less sanguine.

“I want to welcome these positive moves, but I wonder if this will lead to the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear arsenal, weapons of mass destruction and missiles,” Abe said. “I’d like to keep a close eye on the developments.”

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, who was in Washington for a meeting with his U.S. counterpart, said Japan still had concerns despite the pledge.

“We can’t be satisfied,” he was quoted as saying, adding that North Korea did not mention the “abandonment of short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles.”

Japan, one of the strongest backers of the U.S.-led “maximum pressure” campaign to push the reclusive state to abandon its nuclear weapons program, will not change its policy of heaping pressure on Pyongyang, he added.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso also voiced skepticism.

“(North Korea) has made a lot of promises and we paid money on the condition that they will give up experiment sites, but they continued,” Aso was quoted as telling reporters in Washington, referring to Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, said Kim’s announcement was a step in the right direction but that more must be done.

“Kim Jong Un is simultaneously claiming North Korea has completed all the steps it needs for a nuclear deterrent force and making some important but reversible pledges toward denuclearization,” Kimball said. “His announcement to close the test site is significant but reversible. It is crucial that the U.S. and South Korea and Japan and China must seek ways to solidify the pledge.”

Kimball said doing so “can and should emerge from the summit, but the summit will be, at best, just the first stage of a long denuclearization and normalization process.”

Sheila Smith, a senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, also cautioned against heightened expectations for the meeting.

“The contours of negotiation on how to roll back these programs have yet to emerge, but we should not mistake that a moratorium on testing meets our expectations of what eventually needs to be done,” she said.

Kim is scheduled to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in at Freedom House on the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) next Friday, when he will become the first North Korean leader to set foot on South Korean soil. That summit will be just the third ever between the leaders of the two Koreas.

Relations between the North and South, and even between Pyongyang and Washington, have seen a thaw after months of soaring tensions as Pyongyang conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test last year and launched more than 20 missiles — including two intermediate-range weapons that flew over Japan and another long-range missile that experts say puts the whole of the United States in striking distance. With the test of that long-range missile in November, the North said it had “realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force.”

South Korea welcomed the North’s announcement Saturday.

“North Korea’s decision is meaningful progress for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which the world wishes for,” the presidential Blue House said in a statement.

“It will create a very positive environment for the success of the upcoming inter-Korean and North-U.S. summits,” it added.

But despite the relatively positive response, Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor at International Christian University in Tokyo, said that the shift in tactics could be part of a more nefarious push — a concerted effort to fracture the maximum pressure strategy.

“He has effectively decreased tensions on the peninsula, reopened relations with China, and moved the diplomatic pendulum away from conflict to dialogue with no costs,” Nagy said of Kim. “Today’s pledges to close nuclear testing facilities and promises to not test missiles cost the regime nothing as they said nothing about denuclearization of their current systems.

“For a young leader, he has managed Pyongyang’s comparative asymmetric strengths and the stakeholders geopolitical pressure points with astonishing skill,” he added.

Still, Moon’s remarks Thursday that Kim isn’t asking for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula as a precondition for abandoning his nuclear weapons offered hope that a divide-and-conquer strategy may not be on his mind.

The North has for decades tied its development of nuclear weapons to what it has labeled a “hostile” U.S. policy — a reference to the 28,500 troops on its “doorstep” in South Korea, as well as the roughly 50,000 troops stationed in Japan.

Kim’s moves are likely aimed at easing long-standing concerns on the South Korean and U.S. side that the North will never give up its nuclear weapons. And his allusions to the possibility of “dramatic changes” have left the door open to the possibility that he could relinquish his arsenal.

Kim told Saturday’s meeting that “a fresh climate of detente and peace is being created on the Korean Peninsula and the region and dramatic changes are being made in the international political landscape.”

Quoting Kim, the KCNA report said the country is shifting its national focus to improving the economy.

Kim, in a reference to his byungjin (dual progress) policy that focuses on the simultaneous development of its economy and nuclear weapons program, “declared with pride that the historic tasks under the strategic line of simultaneously developing the two fronts … were successfully carried out.”

He said that since it was now a powerful state, “the whole party and country” should concentrate on “socialist economic construction,” in what he called the party’s “new strategic line.”

John Delury, an associate professor of international relations at Yonsei University in Seoul, said this shift was not entirely unanticipated.

The North Korean leader, Delury said, had since taking power “elevated the relative importance of economic development” to a place it had not seen in years.

But “very few people paid attention to the economic part because we are so focused on the nuclear capabilities,” he said.

“There’s another part to this,” Delury said. “We’ve been so focused on measuring every missile and counting every nuclear test, that we haven’t seen the whole picture from Kim Jong Un’s perspective.

“You zoom out, and the speech that Kim made to the third plenum is about a shift to the economy.”

KYODO — North Korea vows to:

• Shut down Punggye-ri nuclear test site in country’s northeast.

• Suspend nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

• Join international efforts for disarmament.

• Never use nuclear weapons if there is no nuclear threat to the country.

• Concentrate on building a powerful socialist economy.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/04/21/asia-pacific/north-koreas-kim-promises-no-nuclear-missile-tests-just-days-inter-korean-summit/#.Wtr-5YjwaUk

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Japanese PM Abe sends ritual offering to Yasukuni shrine for war dead — Always causes displeasure in China, South Korea

April 21, 2018

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FILE PHOTO – A wooden sign which reads “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe” is seen on a ritual offering, a “masakaki” tree, from Abe to the Yasukuni Shrine, inside the main shrine at the controversial shrine for war dead, in Tokyo, Japan April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Toru HanaiREUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to the Yasukuni Shrine for war dead, the shrine said on Saturday, prompting criticism from Seoul as it is seen in the two Koreas and China as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.

On Friday, around 70 lawmakers paid their respects at the shrine, which honors 14 Japanese leaders convicted by an Allied tribunal as war criminals along with Japan’s war dead.

Abe sparked widespread international outrage, including from key ally the United States, when he visited the shrine in 2013 but has since sent offerings on the occasion of Yasukuni’s spring and autumn festivals instead of going himself.

Abe visited the war shrine on December 28, 2013, which caused a loud outcry of protest from China and South Korea

Abe’s offering and the lawmakers’ visit came as North Korea said it will cease its nuclear and military tests and ahead of planned summits between the two Koreas next week and North Korea and the United States in late May or early June.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry criticized the commemoration in a statement, noting that it came as the two nations marked the 20th year of a joint pledge to work towards a new Korea-Japan partnership.

“The government expresses deep concerns and regret that leaders of the Japanese government and parliament have yet again sent an offering and paid their respects at the Yasukuni shrine, which glorifies the history of colonial invasion and war of aggression,” it added.

“Our government urges the Japanese political leaders to strive for trust of neighboring countries and the international community through humble introspection on the past and sincere self-reflection based on correct understanding of history.”

(Reporting by Elaine Lies and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

Abe wins promise that Trump will raise abductions issue with North Korea’s Kim — Trump does not give Japan tariff exemption

April 19, 2018

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U.S. President Donald Trump waves at the conclusion of a joint news conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, on Wednesday. REUTERS

KYODO, AP

In a win for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Japanese leader said Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump has pledged to raise the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang decades ago during his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump and Abe met at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, where the pair agreed to pile “maximum pressure” on North Korea until it takes concrete steps toward “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura said.

Tokyo was also seeking a U.S. commitment that any denuclearization deal the president seals with Kim will include not just long-range missiles but those that could be aimed at Japan.

Appearing before the cameras on the first day of their two-day summit, Abe expressed gratitude for Trump’s “understanding that Japan has put emphasis on the abduction issue” and for his “promise to take it up” in the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit, which is expected by early June.

For his part, Trump stressed that the two sides in this week’s talks are unified.

“Japan and ourselves are locked, and we are very unified on the subject of North Korea,” he said.

Nishimura, who attended the meeting and then briefed reporters, quoted Trump as telling Abe that the United States “will do its best for Japan” on the North Korean issues as a whole.

“We will bring up the abductees. We’ll bring up many different things. I think it’s a time for talking, it’s a time for solving problems. I know that’s been a very big factor for you,” Trump told Abe at the meeting, part of which was open to the media.

Noting that Washington has been engaged in direct talks at “extremely high levels” with Pyongyang in preparation for the summit, the U.S. president said, “I look forward to meeting with Kim Jong Un. And hopefully, that will be a success. And maybe it will be, and maybe it won’t be. We don’t know. But we’ll see what happens.”

The abduction issue has long been a key issue for Abe, and is one of his government’s top priorities. Tokyo officially lists 17 of its citizens as having been abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and ’80s.

Five of the 17 were returned to Japan in 2002, following then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s meeting with Kim’s late father, Kim Jong Il, but North Korea insists eight have died and the other four never entered its territory.

The U.S. itself is pushing for the release of three Americans.

In a stunning revelation that emerged during the first day of the two leaders’ talks, two officials confirmed a report that CIA Director Mike Pompeo had recently traveled to North Korea to meet Kim, a highly unusual, secret visit.

The officials were not authorized to discuss the visit publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Washington Post, which first reported Pompeo’s meeting with Kim, said it took place over Easter weekend — just over two weeks ago, shortly after the CIA chief was nominated to become secretary of state.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump and Kim had not spoken directly.

Contacts between the two side in recent weeks have involved U.S. intelligence and State Department officials, a U.S. official had said earlier this month. The most senior U.S. official known to have visited Pyongyang in recent years was then-U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper in 2014.

Trump, who has exchanged bellicose threats with Kim in the past year, said U.S. officials are looking at five different locations for a meeting with Kim. Asked if any of those were in the United States, Trump said “no”.

A U.S. official said sites in Southeast Asia and in Europe were among those under discussion. Kim has rarely left North Korea.

Speculation has centered on a range of sites including Pyongyang, the Demilitarized Zone between the Koreas, Stockholm, Geneva and Mongolia.

The summit between Abe and Trump comes after Washington surprised Tokyo with Trump’s decision to meet Kim, a development announced last month by a South Korean official, as well as the president’s recent decision not to exempt Japan from steel and aluminum import duties.

Japan has been somewhat sidelined amid the flurry of diplomacy over North Korea’s nuclear program, including a meeting between Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping late last month, scheduled talks between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in on April 27, as well as the planned meeting between Kim and Trump.

While official remarks have lauded the close ties between the two leaders, experts on the Japan-U.S. alliance point to an apparent rift between them, in particular on trade.

Abe is believed to have demanded that the United States exempt Japan from the tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, especially as most major U.S. allies have been extended such treatment.

Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, had said earlier Tuesday that issuing Japan a waiver on the tariffs was “on the table,” but he declined to say what Trump would ask for in return.

Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on Japan is seen as levying pressure to prod it into a bilateral free trade deal as a means to reduce the U.S. deficit with the country through increased exports.

Japan has expressed reluctance about a free trade deal with the United States, given Tokyo’s preference to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional free trade agreement from which Washington withdrew soon after Trump’s inauguration in January last year.

On Tuesday evening, Trump reiterated a call for a bilateral trade deal with Japan, saying he believes bilateral deals are “far more efficient” than multilateral arrangements like the TPP.

“Too many contingencies and no way to get out if it doesn’t work. Bilateral deals are far more efficient, profitable and better for OUR workers,” he tweeted.

The tweet came after Trump appeared to soften his stance on the TPP last week when he tweeted the United States would join the pact, now with 11 members, if it offered “substantially better” terms.

Given Trump’s talk of rejoining the deal, Abe has prepared to propose a new framework to discuss trade issues with the United States as a way of coaxing it back to the agreement, according to Japanese government sources.

In a major policy shift, Trump directed Kudlow and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer last Thursday to look into rejoining the TPP, as the United States is embroiled in a simmering trade dispute with China, a non-TPP country.

Earlier Tuesday, Trump also confirmed that North and South Korea are negotiating an end to hostilities before next week’s meeting between Kim and Moon. The meeting will be the third inter-Korean summit since the Koreas’ 1945 division.

“They do have my blessing to discuss the end of the war,” Trump said.

North Korea has long sought a peace treaty with the United States to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War. It is unusual for the North to seek to broach the issue directly with South Korea rather than with Washington itself. The armistice that ended the fighting was signed by the United Nations Command — the U.S.-led forces in the conflict — North Korea and China. South Korea was a member of the U.N. Command but was not a direct signatory.

The U.S. has traditionally sought to resolve the dispute over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program before addressing the North’s demands for a peace treaty, which the isolated, authoritarian nation views as a means to ensuring its security. The U.S. retains nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea to deter North Korean aggression.

Trump took credit for the inter-Korean talks, saying, “Without us and without me, in particular, I guess you would have to say, they wouldn’t be discussing anything.”

On Wednesday, the agenda will broaden to include other issues affecting the Indo-Pacific region, including trade and energy, and Trump said he and Abe would “sneak out” to play a round of golf. Trump and Abe will also hold a news conference before the president and first lady host the Japanese delegations for dinner.

Both leaders could use a successful summit to give themselves a political boost at home. Trump has been hounded by controversies linked to an investigation into Russian meddling into the 2016 election and Abe is struggling with declining popularity because of scandals over suspected cronyism. After five years in office, Abe is one of Japan’s longest-serving, post-World War II prime ministers but has suffered plummeting poll ratings over allegations that a school linked to his wife received preferential government treatment in a land sale.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/04/18/national/politics-diplomacy/trump-welcomes-abe-gives-blessing-korean-peace-talks/#.WthjAIjwaUk

See also:

Trump, Abe agree to intensify trade talks, but tariff exemption proves elusive for Japanese leader

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/04/19/national/politics-diplomacy/abe-underscores-tpp-trump-remain-loggerheads-trade-issues/#.WthjqYjwaUk

Stocks Tumble on Tech Rout as Support Levels Fail — “You’re seeing people coming out of the stocks that had been performing well.”

April 2, 2018

Bloomberg

  • Tech shares in focus again after Trump’s fresh Amazon attack
  • Ten-year Treasury yield rises; dollar steady, yen declines
Javelin CEO Davies Sees Strong Earnings Growth From Tech
Javelin’s Davies discusses markets and his investment outlook.

U.S. stocks tumbled to start the second quarter, as the weakness in technology shares worsened amid renewed presidential criticism of Amazon.com and retaliatory tariffs from China. Treasuries pared losses and gold rallied.

The S&P 500 Index slumped for the sixth time in eight days, punching through its average price for the past 200 days, a level of support that’s held in three prior bouts of selling. The index is now lower by more than 10 percent from its January record. Volumes were 13 percent below average and the Cboe Volatility Index jumped to 23.5.

The Nasdaq 100 Index lost 2.9 percent as investors continued to offload some of the bull market’s biggest gainers. Amazon and Netflix sank at least 6 percent. The two had led the rally in the past year with gains of more than 50 percent. Bonds erased declines and gold spiked higher as the equity selling picked up steam.

“This is definitely a flight to safety type of market,” said said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at Oakbrook Investments. “You’re seeing people coming out of the stocks that had been performing well. There’d been various stories that momentum was extended in the market place, and I would say today’s activity supports that trying to unwind a bit.”

Investors are entering the second quarter on the defensive after the worst three months for global stocks in more than two years. February and March were characterized by a surge in volatility amid a barrage of concerns, from escalating trade tensions to a selloff in technology shares. Focus this week will turn to U.S. labor market data Friday, which is expected to show unemployment fall to its lowest level since 2000, while traders will also have one eye on trade developments.

“The US markets will likely serve as a focal point as investors stateside and elsewhere consider what tact the administration will take toward trade in the weeks ahead and what effects it could have on the US economy and the economies of its trading partners,” John Stoltzfus, the chief investment strategist of Oppenheimer & Co., wrote in a note to clients Monday.

Equities in Japan, China and South Korea declined during late Monday trading, reversing an earlier advance. Most European markets were closed for the Easter holiday. China on Monday to tariff treatment for more than 100 types of U.S. goods in reply to Trump’s ordering higher steel and aluminum import duties. Agricultural commodities and metals gained.

The yen fell after traders digested a poll showing improved support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet. The South Korean won rose to its strongest against the dollar in over three years as tensions in the region showed further signs of easing. The euro edged higher and the pound strengthened.

“The U.S. economy is showing a lot of symptoms of being late-cycle,” said Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. “I’m looking for a downturn in maybe late next year or early 2020, with the fiscal stimulus they’re getting from the White House giving us a little bit of late-cycle expansion, but nothing that changes the game plan.”

Terminal users can read more in our markets live blog.

Here are some key events coming up this week:

  • Easter Monday is a public holiday in many major markets including the U.K., Australia, Canada, and most of Europe.
  • U.S. manufacturing PMI and ISM manufacturing data due Monday.
  • Reserve Bank of Australia April monetary policy decision due Tuesday.
  • New York Fed debuts the Secured Overnight Financing Rate on Tuesday.
  • Reserve Bank of India April policy decision due Thursday.
  • U.S. employment data due Friday; jobless rate probably fell in March after holding at 4.1 percent for five straight months.

These are the main moves in markets:

Stocks

  • The S&P 500 Index declined 1.7 percent as of 11:20 a.m. New York time.
  • The Nasdaq 100 was off 2.3 percent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.2 percent.
  • The MSCI Emerging Market Index increased 0.2 percent.

Currencies

  • The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index fell less than 0.05 percent to 1,124.38.
  • The euro climbed 0.1 percent to $1.2333.
  • The British pound increased 0.3 percent to $1.4059, the first advance in a week.

Bonds

  • The yield on 10-year Treasuries advanced three basis points to 2.77 percent, the biggest gain in a week.
  • The yield on two-year Treasuries advanced two basis points to 2.28 percent.

Commodities

  • Gold increased 0.7 percent to $1,334.57 an ounce, the biggest climb in more than a week.
  • West Texas Intermediate crude dipped 0.8 percent to $64.42 a barrel.
  • Corn climbed 0.8 percent to $3.91 a bushel, the highest in almost three weeks.

— With assistance by Samuel Potter, Adam Haigh, and Todd White

Includes videos:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-01/asian-stocks-set-for-muted-start-to-second-quarter-markets-wrap

Tokyo stocks hit by Abe worries, with most Asia markets down

March 19, 2018
© AFP | Traders have been spooked as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and Finance Minister Taro Aso are embroiled in a cronyism scandal

HONG KONG (AFP) – Tokyo led losses across most Asian markets Monday as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s political future hangs in the balance over a cronyism scandal, while traders await a crucial US Federal Reserve meeting.After fluctuating last week on worries about a possible global trade war and Donald Trump’s removal of moderate voices in his Cabinet, regional equities are struggling to maintain a run of gains.

Investors are also keeping an eye on Washington after another outburst by Trump against a probe by special counsel Robert Mueller into claims of Russian meddling and collusion with the tycoon’s campaign in the 2016 presidential election.

There are worries in some quarters Trump is planning to fire Mueller. Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader warned if he did then “all heck could break loose on markets”.

In Japan, the Nikkei ended the morning session 0.9 percent lower as Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso are embroiled a scandal over the cut-price sale of government land to a supporter of the prime minister to open an elementary school.

The finance ministry has admitted to altering documents related to the deal.

A weekend poll by the Asahi Shimbun daily found public support nosediving 13 percentage points from a month ago to 31 percent, the lowest since Abe took power in December 2012.

Abe denies any wrongdoing.

– ‘Struggling’ –

Among other markets Shanghai was marginally lower, with investors seemingly unmoved by news that reformer and US-educated Yi Gang was the only nominee to take over as governor of the People’s Bank of China.

Yi recently said the central bank would work to push through reforms that will bring about “equal treatment for domestic and foreign investors”.

Hong Kong was up 0.3 percent but CK Hutchison Holdings was down more than one percent after the city’s richest person and investment “Superman” Li Ka-shing said Friday he would step down as chairman.

CK Asset Holdings fell 2.7 percent.

Elsewhere Sydney added 0.3 percent, but Singapore fell 0.1 percent, Seoul dropped 0.3 percent and Manila lost 0.7 percent. There were also losses in Jakarta and Wellington.

The key event this week is the Fed’s next policy meeting, which will be the first for new boss Jerome Powell. The bank is expected to lift interest rates again but Powell’s remarks will be closely followed for clues about future increases with some predicting another three this year in light of an improving economy.

“Markets are struggling to stay positive given the torrents of potential headwinds. Whether it’s the White House revolving door, an escalation of a global trade war or Japan’s brewing political scandal, markets are grappling to find an equilibrium,” said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trading at OANDA.

“But when you toss in the prospect of a more hawkish Fed, it’s not surprising risk sentiment continues to trade poorly.”

– Key figures around 0300 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.9 percent at 21483.22 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 0.3 percent at 31,584,05

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.2268 from $1.2286 at 2100 GMT on Friday

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3930 from $1.3936

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 105.80 yen from 105.97 yen

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 33 cents at $62.01 per barrel

Oil – Brent North Sea: DOWN 32 cents at $65.89 per barrel

New York – Dow: UP 0.3 percent at 24,946.51 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.3 percent at 7,164.14 (close)

Japan’s Finance Ministry admits to altering documents — references to PM Abe and wife were deleted — documents were falsified

March 12, 2018

Image may contain: 2 people

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks with Finance Minister Taro Aso on Thursday at an Upper House budget committee. KYODO

KYODO

The Finance Ministry admitted Monday to having altered documents over a discounted state land sale at the center of cronyism allegations against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with references to both Abe and his wife, who was involved in a school project at the site, being deleted, ruling party lawmakers said.

The ministry’s admission made to lawmakers could increase calls for the head of Finance Minister Taro Aso, a key Abe ally — as well for the prime minister himself to step down to take responsibility over the matter.

The party lawmakers said 14 of the original documents were rewritten by the ministry after the revelation of the scandal in February last year. Several lawmakers who were also mentioned in the original documents — former trade minister Takeo Hiranuma, LDP veteran Yoshitada Konoike, former Upper House lawmaker Issei Kitagawa and the late Kunio Hatoyama, former internal affairs minister — were also deleted. The lawmakers’ secretaries had been speaking with the Finance Ministry about the Moritomo land deal. It was unclear who had asked for their names to be removed.

The ministry will consider disciplining officials involved in the land sale, both at the ministry’s headquarters in Tokyo and its Kinki bureau, which covers the Osaka region, the sources said.

The original documents quoted Moritomo Gakuen, operator of an elementary school planned to be built at the site in Osaka, as saying Akie had recommended the school project “move forward because it is a good plot of land.” They also said she inspected Moritomo and gave a speech there in April 2014.

An online article attached to the original version, which said Akie was “moved to tears by the school’s education policy” when she visited the nationalist school operator, was also erased in the papers later disclosed to Diet members.

Akie was initially named honorary principal of the elementary school, but gave up the post after a scandal involving the controversial state land deal came to light in February last year. Opposition parties claim the Finance Ministry drastically reduced the land price, taking into consideration Akie’s role in the project.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he sees no need for Aso to resign, telling a news conference that the finance minister “should lead the ministry’s thorough investigation to get to the bottom of” the scandal.

The top spokesman pledged that the government will “deal seriously with” the issue. The scandal over the heavily discounted land sale contributed to a decline in his support rate last year before the doctoring allegations reignited the issue this month.

Senior members of opposition parties lined up Monday to call for Abe — and even the entire Cabinet — to resign over the admission.

“Even if Aso resigns to take the blame, that won’t be enough for the public. The Abe Cabinet should resign en masse,” a member of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) said.

“This issue won’t end until Abe and Aso take responsibility,” a leading member of the smaller opposition Kibo no To (Party of Hope) said.

Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary-general of the CDP, hinted that the party would seek punishments for those responsible at the highest levels.

“It won’t be over just by getting bureaucrats to take the blame,” Fukuyama said.

In addition to stoking opposition parties’ accusations of a cover-up by the Abe administration, the ministry’s admission could also strengthen calls even within the ruling coalition for Abe and Aso to be held to account.

The latest twist in the scandal saw the former head of the ministry’s Financial Bureau, who had come under fire for allegedly making false remarks about the sale to the Diet last year, resign on Friday from his subsequent job as head of the National Tax Agency.

According to the sources, the records in question include a memo attached to documents describing the deal reached in June 2016 to sell the land to Moritomo Gakuen.

The original document described the transaction between the ministry and the school operator as “exceptional,” but this word was missing in the version made available to Diet members during debate about the scandal last year.

The sources said the ministry has not yet determined all the details about when or why the alterations were made and who was involved, and will continue its internal investigation.

Osaka prosecutors are investigating officials from the ministry’s Kinki bureau on suspicion that they oversaw the discarding of land sale negotiation records that should have been retained.

Prosecutors are apparently looking into when and why the documents were falsified.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/03/12/national/politics-diplomacy/finance-ministry-admits-to-altering-moritomo-documents-says-references-to-abe-and-wife-were-deleted/#.WqYue-jwaUk

Japan’s Abe to visit U.S. in April to discuss North Korea with Trump

March 10, 2018

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and suit

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomes U.S. President Donald Trump to Tokyo in November. Abe said Friday that he and Trump agreed to meet in the United States next month. | POOL / VIA KYODO

BY  AND 

STAFF WRITERS
Japan Times
MAR 9, 2018

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday that he and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to meet in the United States next month, following Washington’s announcement that Trump is ready to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the first time ever.

During a 30-minute teleconference with Trump, Abe said they agreed to hold the summit in April to discuss North Korea and the long-unresolved issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and ’80s — one of the top priorities of the Abe administration.

Tokyo welcomed Pyongyang’s stated commitment to denuclearization as a victory for the two allies’ “maximum pressure” campaign and stressed that they will, as always, remain “100 percent together.”

Japan played it cool on the surface but may have been secretly dismayed at the thought of being left behind as Washington and Pyongyang fast approached what appeared to be a diplomatic breakthrough, experts said.

They said the burgeoning momentum for dialogue between the two longtime adversaries will likely put Japan in a tough spot, potentially leaving it exploring the option of ditching its hard-line policy against the North to prioritize harmony with its most important ally, the U.S.

Abe said he “thinks highly of Pyongyang’s shifting ground” signified by its articulate pledge for denuclearization, and attributed its overtures to ever-intensifying sanctions imposed by the global community.

While hailing Pyongyang’s apparent shift in attitude, Abe said he also agreed with Trump that the two allies will at the moment stick to its “maximum pressure” tactics to ensure the regime, notorious for broken promises, won’t renege again.

Japan has long insisted that Tokyo and Washington are firmly of the opinion that “dialogue for the sake of dialogue” is meaningless and that the opening of formal talks with the regime must be conditional on Pyongyang taking tangible steps toward the “complete, verifiable and irreversible” dismantlement of its nuclear programs.

Asked if the North’s proclaimed commitment to denuclearization suggests the reclusive country is moving toward that goal, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed guarded optimism that it is.

“I think they are headed toward that direction,” Suga said.

A high-ranking Japanese official, however, said while Japan welcomes the prospect of a Trump-Kim meeting, “a bar we set for dialogue with the North has not been lowered,” emphasizing Tokyo will continue to “keep a close watch” on whether Pyongyang will actually walk the walk. Repeating Abe’s assertion, he said, “We will press ahead with sanctions” against the regime.

But some experts believe that Japan is unlikely to uphold its hard-line approach toward Pyongyang at the risk of marring its watertight alliance with the U.S.

Tsuneo Watanabe, a senior fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, said that by making overtures toward Seoul and Washington in recent weeks and days, Pyongyang is likely trying to harm their trilateral alliance with Japan.

Under such a circumstance, Abe would “prioritize the Japan-U.S. ties and his personal relationship with Trump” over the maximum-pressure policy, he said.

“I don’t think Japan will go hard-line enough to undermine its relations with the U.S. Doing so would mean (Japan) is exactly falling for the North’s strategy.”

Mintaro Oba, a former State Department diplomat specializing in North Korea, agrees.

“Prime Minister Abe has shown repeatedly that he is a deft operator when it comes to keeping Japan in Washington’s good graces. He may not be thrilled by this development, but he is going to make every effort to be on the same page as the United States,” he said.

As Van Jackson, a North Korea expert and former policy adviser in the U.S. office of the secretary of defense, put it simply: “Abe must be pissed. I would be if I were him.”

While arguing against an easy lifting of sanctions on Pyongyang as a result of the Trump-Kim meeting, Ryo Sahashi, an associate professor of international politics at Kanagawa University, stressed Japan has a good reason to keep up strong bilateral relations with Washington.

The worst scenario for Japan, he said, is to be forced into an independent negotiation with North Korea, where Pyongyang would likely take advantage of Tokyo over the abduction issue.

Meanwhile, questions remain over what Pyongyang means by denuclearization.

The regime has long taken the word to mean ridding the whole Korean Peninsula — rather than just Pyongyang — of nuclear weapons, a scenario that would necessitate the withdrawal of U.S. troops stationed on South Korean soil.

A senior Japanese official said he is “not sure” about the logic behind Pyongyang’s latest vows for denuclearization, but stressed “our stance is the regime has to denuclearize itself.”

Staff writer Jesse Johnson contributed to this report

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/03/09/national/politics-diplomacy/abe-visit-u-s-april-discuss-north-korea-trump/#.WqOd6OjwaUk

Japan eyes aircraft carriers to counter North Korea, China

January 2, 2018

Concerns over N. Korea’s unpredictable regime and China’s expansionist policies have forced Japan to seek reinterpretation of parts of the constitution that ban the nation from having an offensive military capability.

Members of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force attend a ceremony for the Izumo helicopter carrier in Yokohama (Reuters/T. Hanai)

The Japanese government is considering upgrading the largest ships in the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s fleet to enable it to operate a new generation of fighter aircraft, although there are concerns at home that transforming two Izumo class warships — presently designated as helicopter destroyers — into aircraft carriers will contravene the constitutional clause on Japan not possessing offensive military capabilities.

China has expressed similar reservations, although for “historical” reasons rather than fears over Japan’s constitution. Beijing was quick to warn Tokyo to “act prudently” in the purchase of Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning fighters, the short take-off and vertical landing variant of the stealth fighter, and carrying out upgrades to the Izumo and the Kaga, the only two helicopter destroyers in the Japanese navy.

Japan helicopter carrier Izumo (picture-alliance/Kyodo)The government insists the constitution does not specifically ban Japan from having aircraft carriers

Commenting on the reports, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that enhancing the capabilities of Izumo-class ships would inevitably attract the attention of Japan’s neighbors for “historical reasons” — a clear nod at the nation’s use of aircraft carriers to carry out the attack on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and subsequent operations during World War II.

No aircraft carrier ban

Analysts point out that the Japanese government insists that the constitution does not specifically ban Japan from having aircraft carriers and that they should be considered defensive weapons rather than power-projection platforms.

Read more: Japan’s new drive to rewrite constitution amid North Korea threat

“Even though these ships already look very much like aircraft carriers, they are officially classified as helicopter destroyers, but the changing security environment in the Asia-Pacific region means that Tokyo believes it now needs a full flat-top capable of handling stealth fighters,” said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at the Japan campus of Temple University.

“That is a major development that follows Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s doctrine of easing the restraints that have been put on the Japanese military since the end of the war,” he told DW.

The Japanese military believes it faces two primary threats. The most immediate is North Korea, which is becoming increasingly belligerent and unpredictable, even though it is under strong international sanctions. Those sanctions have so far not stopped the regime from developing increasingly capable long-range ballistic missiles and a growing stockpile of nuclear warheads.

The other threat is a China that is apparently bent on expanding areas of the Asia-Pacific region that it controls. Beijing has already effectively seized reefs and atolls in the South China Sea that are also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei, while it has also stepped up aggressive military patrolling close to Taiwan.

Read more: Shinzo Abe’s victory: A mandate to amend Japanese constitution?

Fears over Senkaku islands

Tokyo’s biggest concern is related to the Sino-Japanese tensions over Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea, a group of uninhabited islets which lie half-way between Japan and China. They are administered by Tokyo but are claimed by Beijing.

Effectively undefended, Tokyo fears that Chinese troops could very quickly occupy and militarize the islands. Consequently, Japan is developing new defensive capabilities that would be used to retake the islands, with the upgraded Izumo-class ships a key part of that as F-35s would be able to provide close-in support over the territory.

Read more: Japan protests after spotting Chinese ships near disputed islets

Of the two, Kingston believes that North Korea is presently at the forefront of Tokyo’s thinking when it comes to the Izumo warships.

“Japan is clearly very anxious about the threat posed by North Korea, which fired 20 missiles in 2017,” he said. “The feeling is that Japan needs to beef up its anti-missile defenses at home, as well as have the ability to strike at targets in North Korea if there is a direct threat to Japan.

“And the argument is that an aircraft carrier that would be tasked with carrying out a pre-emptive attack on targets inside North Korea, would be acting defensively because it would be protecting Japan,” he said.

Kingston dismisses China’s objections to Japan deploying aircraft carriers.

“Japan will say — quite rightly — that it lives in a dangerous neighborhood, that it cannot continue to bury its head in the sand of unilateral pacifism and that it exists in a very different threat environment than it did in the 20th century,” he said.

Read more: Japan approves record draft defense budget amid North Korea threat

‘China cannot complain’

“China cannot complain; it is developing its own aircraft carrier capabilities and its military budget has seen double-digit growth rates for the last 20 years or so and presently stands at about three times that of Japan,” Kingston pointed out.

Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor of international relations at Tokyo’s International Christian University, believes that the Japanese government will do everything in its power to portray any enhancement in the ships’ capabilities as defensive in nature.

“The question of ‘projection of power’ is largely a matter of semantics at this point, but the fact is that if they go ahead then the vessels will be able to launch fighter aircraft,” said Nagy, who is also a fellow of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. “So they are walking a very fine line between defensive and offensive power.”

And that ambiguity is “going to create further tensions in the region, most notably with China,” Nagy told DW.

http://www.dw.com/en/japan-eyes-aircraft-carriers-to-counter-north-korea-china/a-41990036

Related:

2018 finds Japan walking tightrope with Pyongyang, Seoul, Beijing — and Trump

January 2, 2018

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Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and suit

U.S. President Donald Trump greets Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House in Washington last Feb. 10. | BLOOMBERG

BY 

STAFF WRITER
The Japan Times

JAN 2, 2018

Last month the kanji kita (north) was selected as the character best symbolizing the social issues of 2017 in Japan, as North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapon threats were a constant challenge to the nation’s security and diplomacy throughout the year.

Experts interviewed by The Japan Times agreed that this year as well, the biggest national concern will be the North Korean threat.

Pyongyang looks ready to defy international pressure and keep test-firing ballistic missiles and pursuing its nuclear arms quest in 2018.

Meanwhile Japan’s bilateral relations with the United States, South Korea and China will be heavily influenced by all the diplomatic maneuvering over North Korea.

How Tokyo walks the diplomatic tightrope between these nations and the nuclear crisis will be high on the agenda of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the experts said.

“There’s no doubt North Korea will remain the biggest concern for both Japan and the United States,” said Tetsuo Kotani, a senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA).

Kotani said the main challenge Abe faced in early 2017 was “maintaining” the Japan-U.S. alliance by securing a “good” relationship with the “unpredictable” President Donald Trump.

In fact, for Abe, maintaining the powerful military alliance with the U.S. is priority one for coping with the North Korean threat.

During Trump’s first visit to Japan as president in November, Abe gave him the red carpet treatment in a bid to build closer relations.

Abe even pledged to further boost Japan’s defense budget by reaffirming purchases of costly U.S. weapons, including anti-ballistic missile defense systems and F-35 stealth fighters.

As a first step, Abe’s Cabinet last month approved a record-high draft defense budget of ¥5.19 trillion for fiscal 2018.

In the budget, ¥700 million will be allocated for the preliminary process of buying and deploying the anti-ballistic missile Aegis Ashore system.

Anti-ballistic missile defense systems offered to Japan include Aegis Ashore

Ken Jimbo, an associate professor at Keio University and a noted security expert, argued that slapping tough economic sanctions on North Korea and building up robust defense capabilities are both essential elements in the diplomatic game to press Pyongyang to shelve its missile and nuclear weapons programs.

“Abe has said seeking dialogue for dialogue’s sake is useless. We must create a situation whereby Pyongyang is convinced that what it is doing will only bring it a negative impact,” Jimbo said.

Aegis Ashore, a land-based version of the Aegis combat system developed for warships, consists of radars, computers and interceptor missiles.

Japan plans to deploy two Aegis Ashore batteries by 2023 at the earliest. They will be added to Japan’s current two-layer ballistic missile defense system that includes the sea-based Aegis system on destroyers and the land-based Patriot interceptor batteries of the Ground Self-Defense Force.

However, Abe’s quest to build a powerful Japan-U.S. military alliance and bolster the Self-Defense Forces will carry risks and costs.

His fellow Liberal Democratic Party members have even proposed that Japan acquire the capability to directly strike North Korean missile bases.

The Defense Ministry is meanwhile reportedly considering remodeling the Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Izumo into a full-fledged aircraft carrier with U.S.-made F-35B fighters.

Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor and water

Izumo

All of the plans to beef up the military may foreclose on Japan’s postwar reputation as a pacifist state.

Throughout the postwar decades, Japan maintained an exclusively defensive posture and pledged not to own any weapons designed to strike territories far from Japan.

“If … the Izumo is changed to enable landings and takeoffs of F-35Bs, the vessel can be used to refuel U.S. stealth fighters anywhere in the world at any time,” the liberal Asahi Shimbun warned in an editorial Dec. 28.

“We feel compelled to sound the alarm about the intentions of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, which seems bent on gradually enhancing and upgrading Japan’s military capabilities by using the security threats posed by China and North Korea as pretexts,” the Asahi argued.

Abe reportedly plans this year to revise the National Defense Program Guidelines, which set Japan’s basic defense policy and the number and kinds of major weapons the country plans to acquire over the next 10 years.

Whether and how drastically Abe will revise the guidelines will be the focus of hot political debate and intense public attention.

Abe is also facing diplomatic turbulence with South Korea, a key partner in coping with the North Korean threat.

Any damage to Seoul-Tokyo relations could make close cooperation in dealing with North Korea difficult and as a result benefit the hermit state.

Late last month an independent panel under the South Korean government released a report on the 2015 landmark deal between Seoul and Tokyo to settle diplomatic issues involving the “comfort women,” females who were forced to work at Japanese military brothels in the 1930s and ’40s.

The panel criticized the deal, saying it was clinched without much communication with the surviving former comfort women. South Korean President Moon Jae-in declared the agreement seriously flawed.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono responded in a statement that Tokyo “strongly demands” that Seoul stand by the deal.

The 2015 agreement clearly stated that all diplomatic issues involving the comfort women have been “finally and irreversibly” resolved.

If Seoul one-sidedly revokes the deal, bilateral relations “would be unmanageable,” Kono warned.

Meanwhile, a long-delayed summit involving Japan, China and South Korea is expected to take place in early 2018.

Whether Seoul can improve ties with Tokyo by the time of the envisioned event is likely to be another focus of diplomatic activity among the three countries this year.

Japan is facing difficult issues with China, a key ally and the main trade partner of North Korea.

China is probably the sole party capable of slapping severe economic sanctions that can critically damage the North Korean economy, the reason Tokyo and Washington have repeatedly urged Beijing to take decisive action to put more pressure on Pyongyang.

However, Sino-Japanese relations remain tense thanks to the territorial dispute over the Japan-held Senkakus Islands in the East China Sea.

Beijing has regularly sent coast guard ships in the area around the uninhabited islets, called Diaoyu in China, since Tokyo effectively nationalized some of them in 2012.

“Japan-China relations worsened about five years ago over the Senkaku Islands. Japan has always been available for talks, and China has just started to respond,” said Kotani of JIIA.

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Senkakus Islands

Kotani, however, fears Trump’s recent official decision to label China a strategic competitor may become a diplomatic obstacle for Tokyo to improve ties with Beijing.

In the U.S. National Security Strategy published in December, Trump expressed frustration over China’s increasing presence in the South China Sea, including its military expansion in the region.

“China has mounted a rapid military modernization campaign designed to limit U.S. access to the region and provide China a freer hand there,” the report said.

Kotani speculated that the U.S. strategy may prompt Japan to toughen its diplomatic attitude toward China.

“This year, Japan will be tested in reacting to the U.S. competition policy against China,” he said.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/01/02/national/politics-diplomacy/2018-finds-japan-walking-tightrope-pyongyang-seoul-beijing-trump/#.WktSNd-nGUk