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TOKYO —

The Tokyo metropolitan assembly decided Wednesday to summon former Gov Shintaro Ishihara and his close aide to appear as sworn witnesses before a powerful committee looking into the controversial relocation plan for the Tsukiji fish market.

The assembly passed a proposal submitted by four major parties to establish the committee, which can compel individuals to testify and submit relevant records. Witnesses who give false testimony could face prosecution for perjury.

It is the first time for the assembly to set up such a committee since 2005.

Ishihara was governor when the metropolitan government decided to buy land in the Toyosu area to relocate the famous but aging fish market. A hearing with Ishihara and Takeo Hamauzu, a former deputy governor, is likely to be held in late March.

Gov Yuriko Koike has put the move on hold due to contamination at the new location, the site of a former gas production plant, and has publicly called for Ishihara to clarify his role in the purchase.

Koike emphasized in her policy speech Wednesday that her administration will investigate the decision-making process for the relocation of the market and clarify who was responsible for the land purchase.

Ishihara and Hamauzu were previously scheduled to appear between March 18 and 20 before a separate special assembly committee on the relocation issue. But the assembly decided to hold a hearing with the more powerful committee empowered to investigate the issue under the local autonomy law.

© KYODO

https://www.japantoday.com/category/politics/view/tokyo-assembly-to-summon-ishihara-to-testify-over-tsukiji-market-relocation

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https://www.japantoday.com/category/politics/view/political-parties-divided-over-emperor-abdication-legislation

TOKYO —

Japan’s political parties showed differing positions Monday over possible legislation to enable Emperor Akihito to abdicate in separate hearings with the heads of both chambers of parliament, participants said.

Although the sessions were held as part of the parliamentary leaders’ efforts to iron out differing opinions among ruling and opposition parties, the results suggest more discussions are needed before a bill is submitted for legislation.

Representatives from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party said the party supports a one-off legal mechanism enabling the 83-year-old emperor to abdicate and make way for Crown Prince Naruhito, 56.

The LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito party, along with two other conservative parties, said during their hearings that they hold a similar view.

Abe’s government is seeking to materialize the aging emperor’s wish to abdicate, which was hinted at in a video message released last August, by means of enacting one-off legislation.

In contrast, the main opposition Democratic Party has advocated a permanent system through a revision to the Imperial House Law, which lacks an abdication provision.

Yoshihiko Noda, the party’s secretary general, said he called for the parliament heads to create an opportunity for all the parties to discuss the issue, instead of separate hearings.

In response, House of Representatives Speaker Tadamori Oshima indicated a willingness to do so after taking part in sessions with a total of 10 parties and groups.

The Japanese Communist Party, together with two other small parties and two groups, also demanded that the imperial law be amended.

Some legal experts and the Democratic Party argue that the planned LDP-led special legislation may violate the Constitution as the supreme law stipulates the imperial throne shall be “succeeded to in accordance with the Imperial House Law.”

In light of that, Masahiko Komura, vice president of the LDP, said after the party’s hearing he believes it is necessary to take measures to clarify the relationship between the envisioned special law and the imperial law.

Komeito deputy chief Kazuo Kitagawa said Oshima asked the party about the idea of adding a supplementary clause to the imperial law and putting the special law’s legal base in it. The ruling coalition has been studying the idea to bridge the gap with opposition parties as it could pave the way for future emperors to step down.

Kitagawa told reporters that he replied, “There is room to study.”

The Diet heads are hoping for early enactment of legislation and are making a rare attempt to reconcile parties’ opinions before the bill’s formulation, lawmakers said.

Taking into consideration each party’s opinion, Oshima and others will compile the Diet’s opinion possibly by mid-March.

Oshima said at a press conference that the Diet heads will meet later this week to discuss how to proceed with debate in the Diet afterward.

In January, a government advisory panel studying the abdication issue released an interim report emphasizing the merits of legislation applying only to Emperor Akihito but not to future emperors.

Considering the Diet’s view and the upcoming advisory council’s final proposal, the government plans to submit the bill to the Diet sometime between late April and early May, political sources said.

© KYODO

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https://www.japantoday.com/category/politics/view/tokyo-governor-wont-decide-on-tsukiji-relocation-before-july-election

TOKYO —

Tokyo Gov Yuriko Koike appears likely to wait until after the July 2 metropolitan assembly election to make a decision on whether to give the green light to relocating the capital’s Tsukiji fish market amid safety concerns about the new site.

“It is difficult to foresee what will happen. It depends on the outcome of a reexamination” of groundwater at the new site in the Toyosu district, where benzene at 79 times the safety limit has been detected, Koike said in a recent interview with Kyodo News.

“The problem is very likely to be protracted.”

The relocation issue will be a major focus of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election as it is unclear who decided to build the new market at the site, she said.

The Tsukiji market, known for its daily fish auctions, was originally scheduled to be relocated to the nearby waterfront area of Toyosu on Nov. 7 last year, but Koike, who took office in August, decided to put the move on hold amid concerns about soil as well as air pollution at the new venue.

Although she said in November that the new market would likely open sometime around the end of 2017 or afterwards if she gives the green light, the schedule is now expected to be pushed back further as the metropolitan government needs to address environment concerns at the Toyosu site.

“If the reexamination shows good figures, people would wonder what on earth the previous examination was about. If it shows bad figures, that would be worse. At any rate, we will be forced to face a difficult judgment,” the governor said.

She has pledged to initiate drastic reforms of the metropolitan government as Tokyo grapples with the fish market relocation issue and the swelling costs of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Koike, who has recently set up what is effectively a new party, said she is aiming to field many female candidates in the metropolitan assembly election.

As for the costs of the Olympic Games, Koike reiterated her hope that local governments near Tokyo will shoulder some of them.

“To pump up the event, I would like to obtain cooperation from people outside Tokyo,” she said.

© KYODO

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https://www.japantoday.com/category/politics/view/japan-eu-aim-to-clinch-trade-deal-soon

BONN —

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday he and European Union trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom have confirmed their resolve to swiftly conclude ongoing free trade negotiations between the two economies.

“We reaffirmed that it is extremely important (to reach) a broad agreement…as soon as possible in order to counter protectionist moves,” Kishida told reporters after meeting with Malmstrom in Bonn, Germany.

“We agreed to continue negotiations and keep the momentum,” Kishida said, adding that he and the EU trade chief agreed to promptly arrange the next round of negotiations.

While a broad agreement is now within sight, the parties remain divided over certain aspects of market access and tariff removal.

The meeting, requested by the EU side, came on the sidelines of a two-day foreign ministerial session of the Group of 20 major economies in the western German city through Friday.

The Japan-EU trade negotiations are continuing against a backdrop of concern that U.S. President Donald Trump’s election last November on an “America First” platform is part of a rising tide of protectionism worldwide.

There is also pressure to clinch a deal before elections in major European economies this year. France is due to hold the first round of its presidential election in April, while Germany is preparing for a federal election in September.

According to a French diplomatic source, it could be difficult to conclude the agreement by the end of the year if negotiations do not come to an end soon.

EU negotiators have requested market access for the bloc’s dairy products, meat, timber and wine at levels higher than Japan agreed to in the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade deal.

Japan, meanwhile, is asking for the European Union to remove its tariffs on Japanese vehicles and electronic devices, which are 10 percent and up to 14 percent, respectively.

Under the TPP, the United States agreed to remove its 2.5 percent tariff on Japanese auto imports over 25 years. Japan has urged the European Union to eliminate its auto tariff at a quicker pace.

Signed by 12 Pacific Rim countries in February last year, the TPP is now effectively dead in the water after Trump issued an executive order to pull the United States out of the pact soon after taking office last month.

© KYODO

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https://www.japantoday.com/category/politics/view/70-2-satisfied-with-abe-trump-talks-19-5-dissatisfied-poll

TOKYO —

A 70.2% majority of Japanese people are satisfied with recent talks between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump, while 19.5% said they are dissatisfied, according to a Kyodo News survey conducted Sunday and Monday.

The support rate for Abe’s cabinet stood at 61.7% in the nationwide survey, up 2.1 points from the previous survey conducted last month, against a disapproval rate of 27.2%.

Abe and Trump held their first official talks in Washington and in Palm Beach, Florida, on Friday and Saturday, where they confirmed plans to strengthen the bilateral alliance and to launch a high-level economic dialogue to cover trade, macroeconomic policy, as well as infrastructure and energy projects.

Trump did not criticize Japan over its sizable trade surplus with the United States, raise currency issues or attack Japan’s automobile trade during their summit in Washington on Friday, Japanese officials said, although prior to the summit, Trump had attacked Japan’s economic and monetary policies.

The latest survey found that 75.5% of the respondents did not understand why Trump issued an executive order that froze the U.S. refugee program and temporarily barred entry to nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries, while 16.9% said they did.

On domestic matters, 69.5% said the way Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda had handled debate in the current Diet session over a contentious bill to criminalize conspiracy to commit terrorism was problematic. Only 14.1% said Kaneda’s handling of the matter was not problematic.

The justice minister has faced mounting criticism over his purported intention to suppress Diet debate on the bill.

He distributed and later retracted a rare statement to the media, which said discussions about the envisioned bill should be withheld for the time being and take place by a judicial affairs committee after the government officially submits it to parliament.

© KYODO

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TOKYO —

Japan’s government debt stood at a record 1,066.42 trillion yen ($9.4 trillion) as of Dec 31, highlighting the difficulty of restoring the country’s fiscal health, data by the Finance Ministry showed Friday.

Per capita debt, the amount owed per person, came to around 8.40 million yen, based on the country’s total population estimated at around 126.86 million as of Jan. 1.

The central government’s debt marked an increase of 3.85 trillion yen compared with the end of September, due to the issuance of “zaito” debt to finance projects such as the construction of a magnetically levitated high-speed train line in central Japan as well as ballooning social security costs.

By the end of the current fiscal year through March, the government’s debt is projected to grow further to 1,116.4 trillion yen.

According to the ministry, the debt total as of December consisted of a record-high 928.91 trillion yen in government bonds, 54.26 trillion yen in borrowing mainly from financial institutions and 83.25 trillion yen in financing bills or short-term government notes of up to one year.

© KYODO

https://www.japantoday.com/category/politics/view/japanese-govt-debt-hits-record-high-y1066-tril-at-end-of-december

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https://www.japantoday.com/category/politics/view/japan-still-frets-over-trump-despite-assurances-from-pentagon-chief

TOKYO —

As the first member of the cabinet of U.S. President Donald Trump to visit Japan, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reassured Tokyo that the bilateral alliance is firm in the face of North Korean threats and Chinese maritime assertiveness.

But Tokyo still may not feel at ease as many uncertainties exist about Trump’s “America First” agenda and his confrontational rhetoric toward even close allies.

“It was a very good meeting. I think it was a big success,” a Japanese Defense Ministry official said after talks Saturday between Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and Mattis at the end of the Pentagon chief’s two-day visit.

“The two countries agreed fully on all kinds of issues,” the official said. “The defense chiefs were able to build trust with each other and I expect it to continue.”

Through a series of meetings in Tokyo, Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, offered all the key security reassurances that Tokyo was waiting to hear from the Trump administration, including the U.S. commitment to defend the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which China also claims.

There was also what the Japanese official called a happy “surprise” as Mattis praised Japan at a press conference Saturday as “a model” of burden-sharing over the costs of stationing U.S. forces in the country. During the presidential campaign, Trump had portrayed Japan as a free-rider on security.

But some experts said the Japanese government must still worry whether the assurances offered by Mattis truly reflect what will be Trump administration policy toward Japan.

“There will always be concerns” that promises may be reversed by Trump, said Kazuhiro Maeshima, a Sophia University professor specializing in American government and foreign policy.

Maeshima also warned that Japan has to be careful not to let Trump use the defense commitment over the Senkakus as a bargaining chip to win concessions from Japan, for example, on economic issues such as direct investment in the United States. Trump considers himself a consummate dealmaker and concerns linger that he may try to negotiate security and economic issues in ways that resemble his real estate bargaining.

There are also concerns over how Washington will assess Japan’s financial contributions toward the costs of U.S. military forces stationed in the country.

Mattis did not raise the issue at any of the meetings in Tokyo, apparently to the relief of the Japanese side. But that does not mean Washington may not bring up the issue in the future.

Maeshima said Mattis may have wanted to avoid roiling the waters ahead of a summit meeting between Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Feb. 10 in Washington, their first face-to-face talks since Trump took office on Jan. 20.

Trump has already stunned the Abe government by ditching the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, and by accusing Japan of devaluing the yen.

Ken Jimbo, an associate professor at Keio University, said Mattis may have avoided getting into specifics on such topics as the host-nation support issue, because the new administration has yet to work out a detailed foreign policy agenda among the president, White House staffers and the State and Defense secretaries.

Jimbo was also doubtful that Mattis’ visit to the Asia-Pacific itself was part of some “clear-cut doctrine” of the administration. “I rather think that a very pragmatic reason has brought Mr. Mattis to this region. And that is South Korea,” the expert on Asia-Pacific security issues said.

While many aspects of Trump’s foreign and security policies in the Asia-Pacific region remain vague, the White House webpage does cite the development of missile defense systems to counter attacks from countries like North Korea as among its “America First” policy priorities.

Seoul has agreed to deploy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system. But Mattis, worried that the controversial plan may be interrupted following the impeachment of President Park Geun Hye in December, may have thought he should go to Seoul to give a fresh boost to the issue before an election is held to pick Park’s successor.

“And you can’t skip Japan (if you’re going to South Korea), so it was a practical decision for Mr. Mattis to also come to Japan,” Jimbo said.

As a result, the meetings held in Tokyo seemed to have centered on sharing a basic awareness of the alliance relationship and regional security challenges, leaving many issues for later discussion.

Attention is now shifting to the Abe-Trump summit, which Maeshima said has the potential to affect the fate of the decades-old alliance.

“If the president does not pledge the U.S. defense commitment over the Senkakus, the alliance will start to drift,” the professor said, adding that the consequence of a frayed relationship is an increasingly assertive China and instability of the region.

He also said Japan and the United States should continue to cherish shared values such as democracy, free trade and the rule of law, which serve as the basis for the present alliance, or otherwise they could see the alliance end up based on self-interests.

© KYODO

 

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