Sentaku in The Japan Times
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has drafted a set of new measures to stop passive smoking as Tokyo braces for the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, calling for a total smoking ban on the premises of public facilities such as schools and hospitals and imposing penalties on violators. However, a bitter feud between opponents and proponents within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is casting thick clouds over the measures' prospects.
The crux of the issue lies in the contradictory policies that the government has pursued by trying to secure tobacco sales as a major source of tax revenue while simultaneously seeking smoking restrictions to protect public health. What the government has been doing is tantamount to hitting the accelerator and the brakes at the same time.
The health ministry's proposed rules would create three types of areas where smoking would be restricted or prohibited, with a proprietor violating the rules subject to a maximum fine of ¥500,000.
There has been much talk lately in Japan about beefing up its missile defense system as North Korea, after conducting five nuclear weapons tests, keeps up its ballistic missile program, including firing four missiles simultaneously into the Sea of Japan in March. Yet given that the missile defense system was introduced in the first place as a deterrent against North Korea, it is doubtful whether the system will be effective now that Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs appear to have made such great strides and the rogue behavior of Kim Jong Un seems as unchecked as ever.
There is no such thing as a foolproof system to strike down incoming missiles. Attempts to pursue that by beefing up the missile defense system will push up defense spending endlessly. The only alternative may be to make the Self-Defense Forces capable of carrying out pre-emptive attacks on North Korean missile bases. But the government is hesitant to take such action, and relies on the offensive capability of the U.S. military. The increased tensions between Washington and Pyongyang since President Donald Trump took office in the United States sheds light on inherent shortcomings of the missile defense system.
The economic plight of South Korea has been exacerbated further by the political turmoil that led to the ouster of President Park Geun-hye from power. However, the key culprit that pushed the South Korean industry into hopeless gloom has been the downfall of Samsung Electronics Co. and the arrest and indictment of Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman and de facto chieftain of the Samsung group, in the corruption scandal involving Park and a confidante.
Samsung expanded by imitating and catching up with the management methods and technologies of its rivals in other industrialized economies while its founding family exerted strong leadership and made timely and bold investments. Today, its sources of strength are being emulated by Chinese manufacturers, which are rapidly catching up. The end of the Samsung era may herald the downfall of a wide range of South Korean manufacturing sectors from shipbuilding to steel and automobiles.
A key focus of U.S. President Donald Trump's inaugural address in January was on bringing manufacturing back to the United States and restoring employment opportunities. A number of American companies, including Ford Motor, have canceled plans to build new plants in Mexico to shift investments back to their homeland. If this constituted the first wave, the second may be transferring production back from China to the U.S., and the third might be a similar changeover from Southeast Asia. These moves could deal a serious unexpected blow to Japanese manufacturers that have been building a tight production network in Asia as a key source of their global competitiveness.
Four years after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to power, his administration continues to enjoy an unusually high approval ratings of more than 50 percent, and the prime minister's grip on power remains unrivaled. And as if he still isn't satisfied, Abe has begun to take steps to solidify the political foundation of his administration, causing new friction among political circles.
On Dec. 22, Lower House Speaker Tadamori Oshima, who hails from Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, complained about the high-handed manner with which the LDP rammed through the controversial bill to legalize casino resorts. Speaking to his close aides, Abe himself did not hide his displeasure with the way Oshima ran the proceedings during the extraordinary Diet session, notably his decision to delay the vote for ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact. Such an open spat between the prime minister and the Lower House speaker, who is customarily chosen from among senior lawmakers from the party in power, is unheard of.
Leaders of the Chinese Communist Party must be all smiles with the inauguration of Donald Trump as the new president of the United States.
When Trump was reported to be leaning toward strengthening U.S. ties with Taiwan -- defying warnings from Beijing following his telephone conversation last year with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, major Japanese media outlets reported that dark clouds hung over Sino-American relations, expecting that the Communist Party leaders in Beijing would be rattled by that prospect.
Such an anticipation, however, is off the mark. A source well informed of China's internal affairs says that Trump, who is not too keen on protecting human rights, will soft-pedal Washington's interference in China's human rights issues, which in turn would enable the Communist Party leadership to step up its ruthless suppression of pro-democracy forces and those advocating independence for Uyghurs. According to that scenario, Chinese President Xi Jinping will take advantage of Trump's policies of pursuing nothing but economic benefits, and deprive his nation of 1.3 billion citizens of the freedom of speech and thought.
The Liberal Democratic Party quickly wrapped up its discussions to extend the maximum tenure of its president. However, the ruling party does not seem to be paying much attention to more complicated and serious issues that concern its future.
In just about a month after the party's political reform panel led by Vice President Masahiko Komura began discussions on the matter, the LDP effectively decided in late October to allow its president to run for three consecutive three-year terms, instead of the current maximum of two terms—a decision scheduled to be officially endorsed in a party convention next year. That will pave the way for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the incumbent party chief, to run for yet another term as LDP president when his current term ends in September 2018. Initial calls for caution over the change by the potential post-Abe leaders who stand to see their chances of a near-term ascent to the party presidency dashed, such as Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and former Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, quickly faded away.
Lord Palmerston, who served as prime minister of Britain in the 19th century, once remarked that "We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow." By quoting these words, a Japanese government insider said recently that Japan is no exception—particularly in an age when a character like Donald Trump gets nominated for president of the United States (and goes on to be elected), noting that Japan would have to map out a new path of its diplomacy should its alliance with the U.S. starts to become adrift.
As if to reflect this view on history in transition, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is bent on seeking a breakthrough on the decades-old territorial dispute with Russia over the group of islands off Hokkaido and move Russo-Japanese relations forward when he meets with President Vladimir Putin on Dec. 15 in Nagato in his home prefecture of Yamaguchi.
In early February, the anti-narcotic unit of the Tokyo police was in the limelight after arresting Kazuhiro Kiyohara, a former star professional baseball player, on suspicion of unlawfully possessing stimulant drugs. But the case is just a tip of the iceberg as illegal drugs keep permeating through Japanese society with no end in sight.
A former anti-drug police officer has pointed to a lack of ability on the part of the authorities charged with controlling narcotics such as the police and the health ministry, saying, "Why did it take so long to arrest a guy like Kiyohara who had been heavily dependent on drugs?"
Indeed, it was in March 2014 that the weekly Shukan Bunshun magazine reported that Kiyohara, who had long been rumored to be using stimulant drugs since the 1990s, was rushed to a hospital after suffering drug poisoning.
There are two big hurdles that the police must clear before they can arrest a suspect in a stimulant drug case. They must be able to prove "possession" of a drug by arresting a suspect on the spot and they must be able to prove "use" of the drug by confirming that the suspect inhaled or injected the drug.
Just as doubts grow over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic policies dubbed Abenomics, many say that regulatory reforms will be the only way to revive Japan's economy. However, a sense of disappointment is already spreading in many quarters over a new government panel launched in September under Abe's initiative to promote such reforms.
Abe has long vowed to destroy what he calls "bedrock regulations." Such a pledge may raise some hopes if it signals that Abe really means a departure from his heavy dependence on Bank of Japan's monetary easing to shore up share prices. But a quick look at the names of 14 members of the panel gives rise to skepticism that Abe is merely seeking to keep the stock market afloat by feigning an image of his administration willing to tackle regulatory reforms—and that he has no resolve at all to fight the rigid government regulations.
After returning to power in 2012 with his Liberal Democratic Party's victory in the 2012 election, Abe proceeded to create one advisory panel of experts to the government after another at the initiative of his Cabinet secretariat. One of them was the predecessor to the new regulatory reform panel launched last month.