Japan

Every armed conflict has its femme fatale, the woman who tantalises men on the home front, or taunts them from behind enemy lines.

In World War Two, think of Betty Grable, the leggy film star whose image graced countless US servicemen’s quarters, or Tokyo Rose, the nickname for the Japanese-American radio presenter later prosecuted as a war criminal. Or Lili Marleen, the fictional soldiers’ siren from the popular song played and sung on both sides of the front.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and apparent designs on eastern Ukraine – a murky tale with few identifiable heroes or villains – has brought the world Natalya Poklonskaya, who has become the fresh and comely face of an ugly and fast-expanding east European war. Read more

♦ Many Iranians see basij– the ideologically-driven volunteer forces of the Revolutionary Guards – as stick-wielding thugs, but they show a softer side as they sip cappuccino and discuss art at Café Kerase.

♦ Although demographic and other factors are against the US Republicans, the Grand Old Party is seeing a strange revival.

♦ It’s not a good time for Japan to put its tax rates up, which is why the government is allowing retailers to act like they haven’t.

♦ Much has changed in Sarajevo since the day in 1914 when Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot, providing the spark that lit the flames of the first world war, yet much has remained the same.

♦ The Egyptian army’s gift of land for homes has prompted speculation over a closely guarded secret: the size of the army’s stake in the economy.

♦ A property boom across Germany‘s biggest cities has been dubbed a betongold – literally concrete gold – rush. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
When political leaders start rewriting the past, you should fear for the future. In Russia, Hungary, Japan and China, recent politically sponsored efforts to change history textbooks were warning signs of rising nationalism.

By Gideon Rachman
Faced with a dangerous political threat, governments the world over tend to place their faith in the same magic medicine – economic growth. When world leaders try to address the roots of terrorism, for example, they instinctively assume that prosperity and jobs must be the long-term answer. And when a regional conflict threatens to get out of control – in east Asia or the Middle East – the standard political response is to call for greater economic integration. From Europe to China, governments place their faith in economic growth as the key to political and social stability.

Martin Wolf

At a debate in Davos Joseph Nye, the American political scientist, asked the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, what he felt about the comments of the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe on Sino-Japanese relations earlier in the week and especially the parallel Mr Abe drew between the pre-world war one relationships in Europe and those between China and Japan today.

These were Mr Yang’s key points in reply: Read more

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe did not shy away from discussing the tensions with China in his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Lifen Zhang, editor-in-chief of FTChinese.com, examines the reaction of Chinese delegates and journalists.

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By Gideon Rachman
The official theme for this year’s World Economic Forum is predictably bland – “Reshaping the World”. But the unofficial slogan will be “America is back”. Predictions that the US economy will grow by 3 per cent this year – added to worries about emerging markets – mean that Davos is likely to be bullish on America for the first time in years.

TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images

By Jonathan Soble

Sermons from the IMF tend to make Japanese leaders fidget nervously in their pews – all fire and brimstone about budget deficits and the need for austerity. But Christine Lagarde’s warning about the evils of deflation is more likely to elicit a full-throated “amen”.

Successive Japanese administrations have promised to end deflation – the “ogre”, in Ms Lagarde’s description, that has menaced the country’s economy since the late 1990s. But under Shinzo Abe, prime minister since December 2012, and his central bank governor, Haruhiko Kuroda, deflation-fighting has become the overriding priority.

They have been getting results so far: prices of consumer goods excluding fresh food are rising nearly 1 per cent year-on-year, thanks to the Bank of Japan’s ultra-accommodative monetary policy and the related plunge in the value of the yen, which has pushed up the cost of imports. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Can thinking about the past improve the way you handle the present? If so, this year’s centenary of the outbreak of the first world war could do the world a great service by persuading modern politicians to spend more time thinking about Sarajevo, and less time worrying about Munich.

Gideon Rachman

At the end of every year, I attempt a first draft of history by listing what seem to me to be the five most significant events of the past twelve months. Some of my picks for 2013 also featured in 2012. I hope this is not because of intellectual laziness, but simply because the war in Syria, and the turmoil in Egypt remain defining events of our era. I probably should also once again include the tensions between China and Japan – but they are still simmering and have not yet boiled over. So I’ll give the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands a rest this year.

So let me start the list for 2013 with a genuinely new event that has global significance: Read more