Japan

After a frenetic period of travel involving 10 separate trips overseas in the past three months, I am trying to catch my breath, shake off the jet lag and make sense of what I have seen. Leaving aside the big geopolitical themes, one tentative conclusion I have reached is that world leaders and hotel lobbies do not mix.

This first struck at the Ritz Hotel in Madrid as I waited to greet Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, who was the guest-of-honour at the FT’s Spain Summit. On one side of the lobby was a bank of photographers and TV crews. I was standing on the other side with a couple of FT colleagues and the hotel management. Rajoy’s limo drew up and we could see him and his entourage heading towards the entrance. Just at that moment, a party of elderly Americans came out of the lift, clad in their trademark tracksuit bottoms and fluorescent visors, and began to totter across the lobby, demanding loudly, “Where’s the coach?” The hotel manager froze — torn between the desire to shove the Americans out of the way and his duty to be courteous. He just about pulled it off but it was a close-run thing. Read more

  • The pragmatists have won out over the radical idealogues in Venezuela’s administration and Nicolás Maduro is starting to take orthodox steps to repair the economy.
  • Israel is staying out of the fracas in Ukraine: it cannot jeopardise ties with Russia, even if that puts it at odds with the US.
  • The US-Japan relationship has been the bedrock of Asian security and economic growth, but recent frictions have raised questions about how committeed they are to the partnership.
  • The decline in crime in Western nations could have been a result of the removal of lead from petrol.
  • It may have been disparaged for its decline since the fall of the Soviet Union, but the Russian army has upgraded to 21st-century tactics in order to seize the initiative from the west.
  • Residents of Crimea are living in a state of perpetual confusion, but Crimean authorities are pushing for the peninsula to become the world’s next Las Vegas.

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♦ 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

  • The prospect of intelligent machines improving human lives will depend on how the gains are produced and distributed, says Martin Wolf.
  • Hassan Rouhani has fended off the hardliners and can count on the support of the supreme leader, but this depends on his being able to secure a longer-term nuclear deal that leads to a removal of sanctions.
  • If Japan is really to put “women power” to work, it needs more revolutionary change, argues David Pilling.
  • Ugly people are oppressed and to “imagine we could ever completely overcome this kind of natural inheritance… is a fantasy” according to Jonny Thakkar, a lecturer at Princeton.
  • An Italian monastery has become a trendy atelier for brides looking to keep their wedding costs down.
  • Without immigrants, the Swiss football team would be very different.

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Will a slow down in Asian economies mean cancelled orders for Airbus and Boeing? Our Aerospace special report explores the possibilities and looks at how much western defence contractors such as Raytheon stand to gain from North Korean sabre-rattling and Asia’s territorial disputesRead 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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♦ While many previously buoyant island states across the Caribbean are struggling, Jamaica’s crisis is the deepest. Robin Wigglesworth profiles a country teetering on the edge of an economic precipice.

♦ The FT interviews Haruhiko Kuroda, the central bank outsider who this year took over the Bank of Japan.

♦ Israelis see many positive economic, strategic and diplomatic developments despite Benjamin Netanyahu’s dark public statements on Iran that present an image of an embattled, paranoid state, says Gideon Rachman.

♦ The Washington Post spoke to refugees from all walks of life in its report: Stories from the Syrian exodus.

♦ When veteran Egyptian politician Amr Moussa unveiled Egypt’s new draft constitution on Sunday, he did so in front of a vast banner that proclaimed the text represented “all Egyptians”. Unfortunately for Moussa, three of the five models used to depict “all Egyptians” turned out to be westerners.

♦Veronique Greenwood in Aeon explains why Swiss farmers take such good care of their cowsRead more

It’s been a year since Shinzo Abe got financial markets excited with his plan to pull Japan’s economy out of its more than 15-year deflation. So has Abenomics been a success? Jonathan Soble, Tokyo bureau chief investigates: Read more

By Luisa Frey

♦ Fears of an accidental conflict are growing following China’s creation of an air defence zone over the Japanese-administered Senkaku islands it claims as its territory, with the US seeing the move as a provocative step, writes the FT’s Demetri Sevastopulo. Read more

By Luisa Frey

♦ The financial crisis has hit a whole generation of English graduates, “for whom a degree has all but ceased to be a golden ticket to a decent job“, writes the FT’s economics correspondent, Sarah O’Connor. Graduates now earn less and owe more in student debt.

♦ “China and Japan are heading for a collision“, says Gideon Rachman, the FT’s chief foreign affairs columnist. The fact that both countries are setting up National Security Councils may be dangerous in times of military jostling related to territorial claims.

♦ In Japan, communities devastated by the 2011 tsunami are receiving support from architects. A project called Home for All seeks to build communal structures incorporating local history and customs, reports Edwin Heathcote.

♦ A middle class is rising in Mexico as the country finally attracts higher-end industries. “Many people are beginning to believe they can get ahead through study and hard work” says the New York Times.

♦ In Syria, veteran commanders say a second civil war has started - in which the goals of freedom, Islam and social equality were replaced by betrayal, defeat and anger towards rival militias, jihadis and foreign powers, reports The Guardian.

♦ “Dispute over gay marriage erupts in Cheney family,” according to the New York Times blog: The Caucus. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

Amid all the noise about the economic reforms launched last week by China, it was easy to overlook another important change. The Chinese government is setting up a National Security Council, co-ordinating its military, intelligence and domestic security structures. The model is said to be America’s NSC. But China’s move also parallels developments in Japan, where Shinzo Abe’s government is also setting up a National Security Council.

By Gideon Rachman
A few years ago Wired, the technology magazine, ran a regular feature called “Japanese schoolgirl watch”. The concept was not as dubious as it sounds. The idea was simply that the schoolgirls of Japan are technological trendsetters and that the gadgets they adopt today will go global tomorrow.

There’s been a lot written in the FT and elsewhere about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Here are five reasons you should care about this trade pact:

1. This is a big deal.

If, or when, it is finalised the 12-country Pacific Rim deal will cover countries responsible for almost 40 per cent of global GDP and involved in more than a third of global trade.

This chart is taken from a June 2013 report by the US Congressional Research Service. Some $18tn in goods is traded around the world each year these days. The countries in the TPP (The current “TPP 12”: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US, and Vietnam) accounted for 36 per cent of that total in 2011.

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♦ The anxiety over Japan’s sales tax may seem bizarre to outsiders, but it will be a stern test of Shinzo Abe’s popularity.
♦ James Politi looks at the impact of the sequester on Head Start, arguably the most high-profile casualty among the anti-poverty programmes.
♦ Nicolás Maduro is looking to blame anybody else for Venezuela’s economic problems – even Spider-Man.
♦ While support for Cristina Fernández ebbs in Argentina, Sergio Massa has risen to become one of the strongest potential candidates for presidential elections in 2015.
♦ Slate magazine imagines how the US government shutdown would be covered by the US media, if it took the same tone that it does in its foreign coverage.
♦ The Washington Post is crowdsourcing for ideas as to how congress can be punished for the government shutdown.
♦ Smuggled letters from westerners caught up in the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood reveal that terrible prison conditions remained unchanged and there is a new willingness to subject westerners to the same treatment as Egyptians, according to the New York Times. Read more

By David Gallerano and Catherine Contiguglia
♦ The tragic ending of prisoner Menes, the Hungarian stork unfairly painted as a spy (as well as a duck) by the Egyptian police and clapped into a prison in the Qena governorate.
♦ A self-organized group of armed citizens is battling – with unexpected success – a brutal drug cartel at Michoachan, in central Mexico.
♦ Japanese economist Takatoshi Ito analyses Japan’s fiscal situation and argues Mr. Abe must press ahead with tax increases.
♦ “We Syrians are human beings of this world, and the world must stop the Assad regime from killing us. Now,” writes Syrian activist Yassin al-Haj Saleh, in his plea for a strong intervention that does not just “discipline” the regime.
♦ A profile of Rwandan president Paul Kagame – who “may be the most complicated leader in Africa”Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Japan’s public diplomacy hovers between the ludicrous and the sinister. In recent months, the country has specialised in foreign policy gaffes that seem designed to give maximum offence to its Asian neighbours while causing maximum embarrassment to its western allies.

♦ Zimbabwe’s state TV service faces its first rival – which is competing with it from South Africa.
♦ China can stop the world’s tallest skyscraper from being built, but it can’t stop the curse of the skyscraper.
♦ David Pilling explains why multinationals operating in China are likely to find the going gets tougher.
♦ China is pushing ahead with dams on the Mekong River, but politicians and dam builders have done little to assuage the worries of local communities.
♦ Western countries including the US and UK may be asked to accept tens of thousands of Syrian refugees because the exodus from the civil war is overwhelming countries in the region.
♦ Have the millions of elderly people being kept alive via feeding tubes become a symbol of an ageing Japan?

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♦ Many in Japan are hoping that Shinzo Abe’s pragmatism will win out over his ideology.
♦ Rotimi Amaechi, the governor of Rivers state in Nigeria, has accused President Goodluck Jonathan of condoning “impunity and authoritarianism” in an effort to ensure re-election in 2015.
♦ A generation of Muslim Americans has come of age in the shadow of 9/11, amid a climate that ranges from low-level paranoia to verbal abuse and vandalism. In response, some embrace their faith more fervently, others live in self-imposed isolation.
♦ Western states in the US may break temperature records again this year, but what does this mean for farmers and agriculture?
♦ Israel’s government views the EU plan to label products made in settlements as symptomatic of a greater threat to the legitimacy of the Jewish state.
♦ The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is back and Foreign Policy has a handy guide to the buzzwords that are going to be flying around.
♦ A young conscientious objector has proved tricky for Israel’s army – he would serve if it wasn’t for the Israeli occupation. Read more

♦ Detroit became the largest US city to file for bankruptcy. Time magazine looks at the decay of the city. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein points out Detroit is not alone.
♦ Sunday’s election for the upper house of Japan’s parliament is expected to give Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a stronger platform from which to shoot the “arrows” of his radical economic reforms, but some fear he may also strike a more nationalistic tone.
♦ Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was freed on bail Friday after being sentenced to five years in prison on embezzlement charges the day before. Our Charles Clover examines how his jailing tells you a lot about how political repression has evolved in Russia over the years. Masha Lipman looks at how the Putin government chose to eliminate their political opposition the hard way.
♦ The Guardian’s Patrick Kingsley examines the shooting of Muslim Brotherhood supporters outside the Republican Guards’ club in Cairo and finds that it was a coordinated assault on largely peaceful civilians.
♦ Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy argues that Washington should make a “much broader, more vigorous effort to engage publicly and privately across all Egyptian political groups and segments of the population” – but now is not the moment, with so much anti-American rhetoric swirling around.
♦ They were the irreplaceable loot from the art heist of the century. But to Olga Dogaru, a resident of a tiny Romanian village, burning them was the only way to save her son from prosecution. The problem is that he is the man charged with orchestrating the brazen theft last October of works worth hundreds of millions of dollars from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam. And the works were masterpieces by the likes of Picasso, Monet and Gauguin. Read more