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Aging Japan seeks more foreign workers
Desperate for more workers to support a construction boom, Japan has proposed to expand its controversial foreign trainee program to permit more unskilled labor from Asia to work in Japanese companies for five years from the current three years. - Suvendrini Kakuchi (Apr 24, '14)

Obama runs China's pivot gauntlet
Barack Obama embarks on a pivot promotion tour of Asia today with a certain smugness that the political and economic foundations of a China-containment regime have been laid. But with overt confrontation in East Asia from Beijing signaling its preparedness to manage relations in more hostile ways, the US president has no reason to feel other than the beginning of the end for the American Century is upon him. - Peter Lee (Apr 22, '14)

Japan warns Beijing over ship seizure
Japan has warned that the seizure by China of a container ship owned by Mitsui OSK Lines for its failure to respond to a wartime compensation order may damage bilateral economic ties to the extent that it "may rock the foundation of the 1972 joint statement's spirit that normalized Japan-China diplomatic relations". (Apr 22, '14)

Crimean conquest shows China the way
While Chinese hawks know that Russia's annexation of Crimea is not an easily transposable template for forcible takeovers, those advocating a harsher line on maritime territorial claims likely view the crisis as both a precedent and a window of opportunity. With Washington and Brussels focused on Moscow's next move, miniature "land-grabs" could be attempted in the South China Sea at reduced cost. - Euan Graham (Mar 31, '14)

Understand Abe, but focus on Japan
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the ruling class reject admissions of guilt for past atrocities as they believe these restrain Japan through "self-humiliation". Instead of focusing on Abe, the US could nurture links with the sizeable number of Japanese who reject World War II revisionism. This would empower "doves" in the political hierarchy, and help the US better understand Japan. - Grant Newsham (Mar 17, '14)

Rethinking disaster militarism in Asia
Disaster relief has increasingly become part of the justification for increased US troop deployments in the Asia-Pacific region. While massive and permanent presence enables the US military to be the “first and fastest” to respond to sudden calamity, such "disaster militarism" must give way to a more human response. (Mar 12, '14)

Asia pivot comes back to bite the US
US media are sniping at "provocative" acts by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, seemingly ignorant to the fact that Abe's refusal to embrace Asian unity is a direct consequence of the empowerment of Tokyo's hawks by the US "pivot to Asia". Instead of the united front against China the US envisioned, it has an alliance in flux that's ripe for testing by Beijing. - Peter Lee (Feb 25, '14)

Silver-lining to Japan's energy crisis
Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has been smart enough to see opportunity in its difficulties with a power supply that makes his country the world's biggest energy importer. The struggle serves as the basis for a new relationship with India, has reinvigorated diplomacy with the United States and has deepened cooperation with energy-exporters - even Russia. As such, Japan's energy crisis can be considered a blessing in disguise. - Aiko Shimizu (Feb 24, '14)

US blind to barbs in Japan defense plan
The United States is supporting Japanese plans for "collective self-defense", which are described as the biggest shake-up in relations since World War II and would permit Tokyo to manage its own security ties with Asian allies. The US believes the plans ensure Tokyo's loyalty to Washington while keeping Japan's military ambitions constrained by the pacifist constitution. This ignores the instrument's potential uses against China. - Peter Lee (Feb 13, '14)

Abe tunes up to militant beat
Building trust with major trade partners in Asia, much less with the international community, is not a major theme of the Shinzo Abe administration in Tokyo. The beat of war drums is more his style, exemplified by the prime minister's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine and his veneration of his grandfather, World War II commerce and industry minister Nobusuke Kishi. - Nancy Snow (Feb 13, '14)

Japan's brutal work culture takes a toll
Although fatigue from overwork is blamed for Japan's falling birth rate and high suicide and social withdrawal rates, neither the government nor the people seem willing to address the harsh work-life imbalance. Unless Tokyo starts to hold businesses accountable for employee abuse, there's a risk the economy will be worked into an early grave. - Heenali Patel (Feb 10, '14)

Japan holds to dangerous
plutonium separation plan

Japan has yet to settle on a new nuclear policy in the wake of the Fukushima disaster and closure of its 50 nuclear power plants. Yet operation of the massive Rokkasho facility to separate plutonium in spent nuclear fuel appears to be moving forward with little official reconsideration. - Masako Toki and Miles Pomper (Feb 7, '14)

Identity complex dogs Japan, South Korea
China's cooperation with South Korea in opening a memorial hall in Harbin last month to honor Ahn Jung-geun, the Korean independence activist who in 1909 assassinated the Japanese colonial governor of Korea, symbolizes the historical obstacles to forward-looking Japan-South Korea relations. It also illuminates the power of deeply held and contradictory notions of national identity. - Brad Glosserman and Scott Snyder (Feb 7, '14)

Going public with the China-Japan dispute
A formal diplomatic tool known as "public talks" would give China and Japan a chance to publish their differing interpretations of history worldwide, with "dialogue documents" distributed that also give Tokyo and Beijing an opportunity to pose questions, state negotiating positions and cover international conflicts. Critics may decry the lack of secrecy, but so far, internalizing the national wounds has only helped them to fester. - John Connolly (Feb 6, '14)

Japan hawks ruffle dovish feathers
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's formula to confront China and estrange it from its neighbors by creating security alliances throughout Asia and pushing security concerns to the center of the US-Japan relationship is getting more than a little help from US establishment hawks, who see more money in tension than in peace. But the Obama administration is quietly pushing back. - Peter Lee (Feb 5, '14)

Green challenge to the US 'Asia Pivot'
As the Obama administration's "Asia Pivot" shifts military might to the Asia-Pacific to counter China, it is also wreaking environmental havoc on the region's cetaceans, coral reefs, migratory seabirds, and marine ecosystems. Activists are fighting back against the environmental footprint of American forces. - Koohan Paik (Jan 28, '14)

When the suicide pilots said goodbye
Amid continuing political tension between Japan and its former East Asian colonies, China and the Korean peninsula over its war past, a Japanese museum is planning to register the last letters of Japan's famed World War II suicide pilots as a UNESCO Memory of the World document. The Peace Museum of Kamikaze Pilots says the letters show they did not hate the enemy but wanted to protect their country. - Suvendrini Kakuchi (Jan 27, '14)

India, Japan walk Chinese tightrope
India cemented ties with Japan by making Shinzo Abe the first Japanese prime minister to be chief guest at its Republic Day parade. Yet as Tokyo seeks to rope in Indian support over what it terms "recent Chinese provocative actions", New Delhi's pan-Asian take is not quite what Japan is looking for. - Narayani Basu (Jan 27, '14)

China-Japan rivalry overstated in Africa
Simultaneous visits to Africa this month by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi descended into a fight over who has the continent's best interests at heart. That China is increasingly modeling its economic activities in Africa on what it has learned from Japan suggest their approaches to Africa are not radically different. - Seifudein Adem (Jan 23, '14)

Japan cuts distance from its military days
Territorial tensions between China and its neighbors in the East and South China Seas presented Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in Asia. But his decision to ignore widely held opposition to any high-level visit to honor war criminals at the Yasukuni Shrine could seriously undermine the charm-offensive - and Japan's bid to isolate China. - Richard Heydarian (Jan 21, '14)

Abe's rightward shift risks his legacy
Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's rightist tendencies and influences are in full flow and his recent controversial shrine visit to honor war heroes and war criminals alike is a clear distraction from the true challenges he faces in 2014. Should the nationalistic Abe lose support from moderates in and outside Japan, he will also lose a legacy that is within grasp. - Andrew L Oros (Jan 8, '14)

China sticks to collision course
Belief that China's uncompromising behavior in the South and East China Seas is an expression of national interest that can be softened through cooperation and international mediation is off the mark when Beijing will listen only to military force and political isolation. It should therefore come as no surprise that Japan aims to increase its military options while seeking closer security ties with the US and Asian partners. - Stefan Soesanto (Jan 7, '14)

Japanese premier takes a reckless gamble
The Japanese prime minister knew his visit to the Yasukuni war shrine in December would exacerbate already fraught tensions with China and South Korea; he likely calculated that this was outweighed by the domestic political gains. Formal attendance at the shrine symbolizes patriotic defiance against outside interference, helping build public support that will help in pushing through controversial economic and defense reforms. - Senan Fox (Jan 6, '14)

Japan's Angkor art: Booty or fair exchange?
The Tokyo National Museum has Japan's largest collection of ancient Angkor sculptures as well as ceramics of a higher quality than most of those found in Cambodia's own museums. That is courtesy of a deal brokered during World War II, with the French negotiating with Japanese Southeast Asia occupying forces.
- Julie Masis (Dec 23, '13)

Keeping North Korean in Japan
The strong ideological bond that ethnic "Chongryun" Koreans in Japan feel with North Korea is clear from the Kim Il-sung portraits that hang on their school walls. As rising tensions with the Hermit Kingdom lead Tokyo to squeeze the minority financially, the misplaced loyalty the Chongryun community projects on an idealized vision of the North could be its undoing. - Markus Bell (Dec 18, '13)

Turkey a battleground for Asia arms exports
As the Asian century in weapons production and global sales gets into full swing, Turkey is emerging as prime target for the best-of-breed battle tank Japan will be pushing out once it drops its pacifist ban on exports. Turkey also provides a prime example of the Western response to China's growing presence in the international arms market. - Peter Lee (Dec 13, '13)

Japan and China rattle ghosts of Nanking
Contrary to irrefutable evidence, some Japanese politicians persist in viewing Imperial Army atrocities in Nanking during 1937-1938 as "incidents" that were exaggerated by Beijing for propaganda purposes. Meanwhile, Chinese political elites exploit the history card to bolster patriotic credentials. While it is too late for justice for the hundreds of thousands killed and raped, breaking the cycle of blame could help populations move on. - Senan Fox (Dec 6, '13)

OkinawaHas Abe
overreached on China's ADIZ?

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has used China's announcement of its air defense identification zone (ADIZ) to assert Japanese impunity in military flights equal to that of the United States. That won't please China; it may also displease the United States, which prefers Japan to be a tractable ally and not an independent peer. - Peter Lee (Dec 3, '13)

ADIZ posturing shows China's immaturity
Aggressive territorial maneuvers by China such as its unilateral declaration of an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea are designed to enhance its reputation as a major power in its zone of direct influence. However, Beijing's meek response to incidents such US bombers flying through the zone makes China look vulnerable, further compromising East Asian stability. - Namrata Goswami (Dec 3, '13)

Pratchett becomes serious in Asia
Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" series is the stuff of fun fiction. Except that at times it has a disconcerting tendency to prefigure reality, never more so than in Jingo, with its stand-off between the Klatchians and the city-state of Ankh-Morpork over a newly surfaced island. Fast-forward to the present day posturing in the East China Sea and comical fiction ceases to be a laughing matter. (Dec 3, '13)

Okinawa: The Pentagon’s Pacific junk heap
US forces in Okinawa have polluted the sea, land and air with toxins ranging from arsenic and depleted uranium to nerve gas and Agent Orange. Authorities in the Japanese island face a potentially deadly and expensive clean-up operation as plans to concentrate the US military presence in the north progress, while Okinawans must endure the US's toxic legacy indefinitely. - Jon Mitchell (Nov 27, '13)

China's ADIZ undermines regional stability
Beijing's decision to exercise its "self-defense right" and establish an air defense identification zone - as have Japan, South Korea and Japan - injects new problems into its regional ties and further sours relations with Japan. It appears that President Xi Jinping is willing to fan nationalist flames to ensure the Chinese Communist Party's popularity as he tackles economic reform. - Bonnie S Glaser (Nov 26, '13)

China's defense zone creates a flap
From Beijing's point of view, Tokyo has whipped up hysterics over China's newly announced Air Defense Identification Zone as a challenge intimately linked to hostilities their over competing maritime claims. Look at the facts and it becomes clear that it's a storm in a teacup, dishonestly stirred by the United States' own imperialist desires. - Peter Lee (Nov 25, '13)

Korea-Japan ties burdened by baggage
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's move to revise the self-defense constitution of Japan has produced an outcry in South Korea as Tokyo's seeming disregard for the victims of past aggression loom large over present-day ties. The basic difference of opinion between Koreans and Japanese over war-time reparations and apologies is a key reason that historical issues are hurting bilateral relations. - Ashley A C Hess (Nov 22, '13)

Whatever happened to Japanese electronics?
The same control structures that helped Japanese firms take a global lead in electronics have become a liability as worldwide manufacturing patterns change and fluid labor markets threaten the country's dwindling market share. - Steven K Vogel (Nov 22, '13)

TEPCO risks all at Fukushima
By far the most dangerous nuclear operation attempted in human history was set to begin today, Monday, in the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan, the removal of spent and unused fuel rods from a reservoir on top of Unit 4. The consequences of a slip could be catastrophic on a huge scale. The prospects of doing nothing are no better. - Victor Kotsev (Nov 18, '13)

Branding Japan
Shinzo Abe is back as prime minister, along with his special brand of Abenomics and a whole new politics of hype. He may be the main attraction these days in Japan's nation brand to the world, but the global press is far more turned on by the misperception that Japan's younger generation has stopped getting it on. - Nancy Snow (Nov 18, '13)

Vietnam get seats on UN rights body
China and Vietnam have gained seats Asia's representatives on the United Nations' top human rights body. To activists, inclusion of the two countries along with alleged rights violators Russia and Saudi Arabia on a council tasked with protecting human rights is an outrage that deals a blow to the UN's credibility. - Parameswaran Ponnudurai (Nov 13, '13)

Japan's cut-price cleanup
of Fukushima disaster

Financial pressure on Tokyo Electric Power as it cleans up the Fukushima nuclear disaster has seen salaries slashed and skeleton crews employed. The company seems focused only on its bottom line. - Justin McCurry and David McNeill (Nov 1, '13)

Trying to mitigate Japan's history dilemma
Japan can and should seek to mend continuing sores with its neighbors arising from its war history - starting with the issue of "comfort women" and then settling border disputes. As Germany's efforts demonstrate, even comprehensive campaigns of atonement are never fully successful. But by such steps, Tokyo could make an important contribution to a well-conceived national security policy. - Robert Dujarric (Oct 30, '13)

Abenomics and the climate challenge
Were Japan to choose to tackle climate change with radical energy efficiency and renewables, and expand its information and communications technology initiatives, it could become the model for a sustainable and resilient 21st-century urban and rural economy. But Abenomics is currently not up to the challenge. - Andrew DeWit (Oct 25, '13)

Cold shoulders for Japan-South Korean ties
There was no missing the cold atmosphere between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo when they met earlier this month. Body language tells a lot about the current state of South Korean-Japan relations, as outstanding issues prevent meaningful dialogue. - Stephanie Nayoung Kang (Oct 24, '13)

David against nuclear Goliath in Japan
Widespread support for Japan's anti-nuclear activists in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster is fading as the government and large corporations bombard the public with reasons to restart the country's reactors. - Suvendrini Kakuchi (Oct 16, '13)

No more pie in the sky for US-Japan ties
Japan and the United States this month laid bare an ambitious agenda for their "cornerstone" security alliance, covering everything from calls for greater military transparency by China to moving the US base in Okinawa and greater cooperation in procuring weapons. It may all end up to be pie in the sky that crumbles through inaction and budgetary realities. - Yuki Tatsumi (Oct 11, '13)

Japan's dispute diplomacy targets China
Japan paints possible trade and defense deals with India and the Philippines as part of plans to "foster shared democratic values". Under the surface, the Shinzo Abe administration clearly has China in mind. While Delhi could be a valuable friend for geo-strategic support, Manila shares common experience in countering the maritime threats to sovereignty that emanate from Beijing. - Nidhi Prasad (Oct 7, '13)

Abe shoots blanks in New York
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's concern expressed at the United Nations over a rise in China's military budget conveniently ignored that the increase is line with the China's economic expansion. Meanwhile, Japan's defense spending is outstripping national growth as it surges to its highest since the Cold War. Little wonder Beijing responded by pointing to Tokyo's imperial past. - Brendan P O'Reilly (Oct 2, '13)

TPP a Trojan horse
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, planned to cover nearly 40% of the world's economy, is branded as a "free trade" agreement but has nothing to do with fair and equitable treatment. Its secretive commitments do, however, infringe mightily on the rights of individuals and sovereign states. - Sachie Mizohata (Sep 27, '13)

Abe flexes ugly military muscle
International comment on the choice of Tokyo to host the 2020 Olympic Games has been mildly supportive, but very little has been said about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's warmongering attempts to drop a constitutional pledge to "forever renounce" military force to settle international disputes. History demands the same attention. - Brian Cloughley (Sep 27, '13)

Apple et al create new working class
Apple and its commercial ally, Taiwan's Foxconn, are facing challenges to their corporate images that require at least lip service in support of progressive labor policy reforms. The consequences could shape the future of labor and democracy in and beyond China. - Jenny Chan, Ngai Pun and Mark Selden (Aug 29, '13)

Sino-Japanese deals hold water
Over the past five years, China and Japan have worked on maritime confidence-building and communication arrangements to reduce the chances of unintended escalation of territorial disputes. These mechanisms, if properly implemented, could play valuable roles in managing bilateral tensions at sea. (Aug 21, '13)

A soaring story of the inventor as hero
Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises) directed by Miyazaki Hayao
The story of Horikoshi Jiro, the designer of the "Zero Fighter", the plane deployed to terrifying effect in the early years of World War II, which later became the funeral pyre of kamikaze pilots, is one of director Miyazaki Hayao's most ambitious and thought-provoking visions in its exploration of the linkages between militarism, industry, and the pervasive image of the inventor as hero. - Matthew Penney (Aug 16, '13)

Abe, big data, bad dreams
For all the publicity surrounding Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's "Abenomics", there is still no key theme for reforming the Japanese economy. A national version of General Electric's "industrial Internet" is being pushed by some members of the country's elite as a transformational model. - Andrew DeWit (Aug 5, '13)

Fukushima fallout hits farmers
Fukushima farmers who have seen sales plummet since the 2011 nuclear plant disaster there take small comfort from Japanese government efforts to remove topsoil and improve radiation monitoring. Distrust and the absence of risk standards means that consumers will continue to shun the region's produce. - Suvendrini Kakuchi (Jul 31, '13)

Japan playing with fire?
Shinzo Abe's upper-house election victory this month gives the Japanese prime minister control of both houses of the national legislature, making it possible for a radical overhaul of the country's constitution that could see a new defense force emerge and even the restoration of the Rising Sun flag. Many hurdles could put Abe's plans in jeopardy, not least the conscience of the Japanese people. - Michael Burns (Jul 29, '13)

Abe gets unfortunate
vote of confidence

The Japanese electorate at the weekend effectively backed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic policies and his confrontational attitude to China on the disputed Senkaku Islands - which is in line with the United States' strategy of a "pivot to Asia". Unfortunately for Abe, Japan and the wider region, inherent contradictions in the "pivot" and Abenomics threaten a dangerous long-term political mess for everybody. - Francesco Sisci (Jul 23, '13)

Worried Okinawa can look to Singapore
Controversy over a future reduced US military presence in Japan's Okinawa prefecture risks undermining the two countries' strategic alliance. Okinawans could find a solution to their concerns by looking to Singapore, which demonstrates that size is no barrier to sustained strong economic growth. - Grant Newsham (Jul 9, '13)


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