Kerry encourages Obama to visit Hiroshima

The New York Times reports: Secretary of State John Kerry attended a memorial ceremony in Hiroshima on Monday for victims of the American atomic bombing 71 years ago, becoming the highest-ranking United States administration official to visit the site of one of the most destructive acts of World War II.

The visit is likely to intensify speculation about whether President Obama will go to Hiroshima during a planned trip to Japan next month. Mr. Obama would be the first sitting American president to visit the city, a decision that would resonate deeply in Japan but would be controversial at home.

“Everyone should visit Hiroshima, and everyone means everyone,” Mr. Kerry said at a news conference on Monday in response to a question about whether Mr. Obama would go. He said that the president had been invited by Japanese officials and that he would like to visit someday, but Mr. Kerry added: “Whether or not he can come as president, I don’t know.”

Mr. Kerry spoke after he and other leading diplomats from the Group of 7 industrialized countries toured Hiroshima’s atomic bomb museum, laid flowers at a cenotaph in its Peace Memorial Park and examined the former exhibition hall that stood directly under the atomic blast and has been preserved as a skeletal monument. He called the experience “stunning” and “gut-wrenching.”

Mr. Kerry and the other officials were in the city for talks ahead of the annual Group of 7 summit meeting next month, to be hosted by Japan.

The question of how to acknowledge the nuclear attack on Hiroshima, and another on the city of Nagasaki three days later, has long troubled American diplomats. The bombings ultimately killed more than 200,000 people, most of them civilians, in a country that after the war was transformed from an enemy of the United States into one of its closest allies.

But a majority of Americans have long believed that the bombings were necessary to force Japan’s surrender and to spare American lives. [Continue reading…]

An article by Ward Wilson, published in Foreign Policy in 2013, argues, however, that Japan’s decision to surrender probably had much less to do with the effect of nuclear weapons, than with Stalin’s decision to invade.

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Fukushima: The price of nuclear power

Michael Ignatieff writes: Four years ago, the fishing town of Namie, on the northeast coast of Japan, lived through an experience of malediction biblical in scope. Beginning at 2:46 PM on March 11, 2011, without warning, the town’s population of 23,000 was struck by a triple disaster in quick succession: an earthquake measuring nine on the Richter scale that severely damaged the upper town, a fifteen-meter tsunami that carried away the entire lower town, and finally, in the days that followed, a blanket of radioactivity, from explosions in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant just six miles away, that settled over the town’s ruins.

Today grass grows on the sidewalks in Namie. There are no cars, no people, anywhere. Through shop windows you can still see goods that tumbled off the shelves and remain on the linoleum floors gathering dust. Everything is as it was left in the panicked evacuation. In one building, the earthquake has left behind a three-inch fissure in a wall, a vase lies in pieces on the floor of a sitting room, and the windows of a sunroom have collapsed in shards. Nearby a store sign—in English—“Suzuki watch, jewelry, optical”—lies collapsed on the sidewalk; the bus shelter where the municipal buses turned around is empty; a sign saying “Louer: Total Beauty Salon” still hangs over a shuttered shop; and at the town’s main intersection, the single traffic light is still blinking on and off.

Four years after the calamity, no one from Namie can return home. It remains in the “red zone,” a contaminated area fifty miles by ten where the winds and rains carried a plume of radioactivity in the days after the disaster. Today there are parts of town where radiation measures twenty-six times the Tokyo level. Caesium-137 is washed down by the rains and accumulates in the weeds that grow near the gutters. Yet Japan — along with much of the world — still considers nuclear power an essential part of the energy mix necessary to meet the challenge of climate change. [Continue reading…]

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Effort by Japan to stifle news media is working

The New York Times reports: It was an unexpected act of protest that shook Japan’s carefully managed media world: Shigeaki Koga, a regular television commentator and fierce critic of the political establishment, abruptly departed from the scripted conversation during a live TV news program to announce that this would be his last day on the show because, as he put it, network executives had succumbed to political pressure for his removal.

“I have suffered intense bashing by the prime minister’s office,” Mr. Koga told his visibly flabbergasted host late last month, saying he had been removed as commentator because of critical statements he had made about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Later in the program, Mr. Koga held up a sign that read “I am not Abe,” a play on the slogan of solidarity for journalists slain in January at a French satirical newspaper.

The outburst created a public firestorm, and not only because of the spectacle of Mr. Koga, a dour-faced former top government official, seemingly throwing away his career as a television commentator in front of millions of viewers. His angry show of defiance also focused national attention on the right-leaning government’s increased strong-arming of the news media to reduce critical coverage.

Many journalists and political experts say the Abe government is trying to engineer a fundamental shift in the balance of power between his administration and the news media, using tactics to silence criticism that go beyond anything his predecessors tried and that have frustrated many journalists. These have included more aggressive complaints to the bosses of critical journalists and commentators like Mr. Koga, and more blatant retaliation against outlets that persist in faulting the administration. At the same time, Mr. Abe has tried to win over top media executives and noted journalists with private sushi lunches. [Continue reading…]

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Kenji Goto’s apparent ISIS beheading condemned by Japan, world leaders

The Associated Press reports: Appalled and saddened by news Sunday of journalist Kenji Goto’s beheading, apparently by Islamic State extremists, Japan ordered heightened security precautions, but vowed not to give in to terrorism.

The failure to save Goto raised fears for the life of a Jordanian fighter pilot also held hostage. Unlike some earlier messages, there was no mention of the pilot in an online video purporting to show an Islamic State group militant beheading Goto, circulated via social media late Saturday by militant sympathizers.

The slaying of Goto, a freelancer whose work focused on refugees, children and other victims of war, shocked this country, which until now had not become directly embroiled in the fight against the militants. [Continue reading…]

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Japanese reporter’s bid to save friend led to ISIS abduction

Before the apparent murder of the Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, Reuters reported: It is an unlikely friendship that ties the fates of war correspondent Kenji Goto and troubled loner Haruna Yukawa, the two Japanese hostages for which Islamic State militants demanded a $200 million (132.34 million pounds) ransom this week.

Yukawa was captured in August outside Aleppo. Goto, who had returned to Syria in late October to try to help his friend, had been missing since then.

For Yukawa, who dreamed of becoming a military contractor, travelling to Syria had been part of an effort to turn his life around after going bankrupt, losing his wife to cancer and attempting suicide, according to associates and his own accounts.

A unit at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been seeking information on him since August, people involved in that effort said. Goto’s disappearance had not been reported until Tuesday’s video apparently showing him and Yukawa kneeling in orange t-shirts next to a masked Islamic State militant wielding a knife.

Yukawa first met Goto in Syria in April and asked him to take him to Iraq. He wanted to know how to operate in a conflict zone. They went together in June.

“He was hapless and didn’t know what he was doing. He needed someone with experience to help him,” Goto told Reuters in August.

Yukawa then returned to Syria in July on his own. Goto, 47, returned to Japan. Yukawa’s subsequent abduction haunted Goto, who felt he had to do something to help the man, a few years his junior. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS wants to swap this woman for Japanese hostage

Al Jazeera: The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has reportedly demanded the release of an Iraqi woman detained in Jordan in exchange for a Japanese national they have held captive.

In a video recording posted online on Saturday, Kenji Goto, a freelance Japanese journalist abducted while reporting on Syria’s civil war last year, spoke of ISIL’s demand for a prisoner exchange to guarantee his release.

“They are just demanding the release of their imprisoned sister Sajida al-Rishawi. It is simple. You give them Sajida and I will be released,” Goto says in the video.

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ISIS threatens to kill two Japanese hostages, demands ransom from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

The Washington Post reports: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shifted his Middle East visit into crisis mode Tuesday after the Islamic State threatened to kill two Japanese hostages unless the extremist group receives a $200 million ransom within the next 72 hours.

The video, posted on militants’ Web sites Tuesday, shows an apparent Islamic State fighter wielding a knife and standing between two hostages wearing orange jumpsuits, whom the militants identify as Kenji Goto Jogo and Haruna Yukawa.

A senior Japanese diplomat, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the subject, said Goto, a well-respected Japanese journalist, was last heard from on Oct. 24. He had told friends he was traveling to Kobane, a flashpoint town on the Turkish-Syrian border, but it is unclear exactly where he was kidnapped.

“I’m in Syria for reporting,” he told the AP in an e-mail late last year. “I hope I can convey the atmosphere from where I am and share it.”

Yukawa went missing in August.

“We don’t know what he does exactly,” the diplomat said. “He says he runs a private military company, but we don’t have these kinds of companies in Japan. We believe he is a military fanatic, but he doesn’t have any official military experience. He’s not a fighter.”

“Officially, we don’t pay ransoms,” he added. “In some incidents in the past we might have paid, but we’d never announce it. I don’t know what will happen now.” [Continue reading…]

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Japan secrecy act stirs fears about press freedom, right to know

Reuters reports: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is planning a state secrets act that critics say could curtail public access to information on a wide range of issues, including tensions with China and the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The new law would dramatically expand the definition of official secrets and journalists convicted under it could be jailed for up to five years.

Japan’s harsh state secrecy regime before and during World War Two has long made such legislation taboo, but the new law looks certain to be enacted since Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party-led bloc has a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament and the opposition has been in disarray since he came to power last December.

Critics see parallels between the new law and Abe’s drive to revise Japan’s U.S.-drafted, post-war constitution to stress citizen’s duties over civil rights, part of a conservative agenda that includes a stronger military and recasting Japan’s wartime history with a less apologetic tone.

“There is a demand by the established political forces for greater control over the people,” said Lawrence Repeta, a law professor at Meiji University. “This fits with the notion that the state should have broad authority to act in secret.”

Abe says the new law, a draft of which is expected to be approved by his cabinet on Friday, is vital to his plan to set up a U.S.-style National Security Council to oversee security policies and coordinate among ministries.

Legal and media experts say the law, which would impose harsh penalties on those who leak secrets or try to obtain them, is too broad and vague, making it impossible to predict what would come under its umbrella. The lack of an independent review process leaves wide latitude for abuse, they say. [Continue reading…]

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Japan rejected NSA request for aid in tapping fiber-optic cables in 2011

Kyodo News International reports: The U.S. National Security Agency sounded out the Japanese government around 2011 for cooperation in wiretapping fiber-optic cables carrying phone and Internet data across the Asia-Pacific region, sources familiar with the matter said Saturday.

The agency’s overture was apparently aimed at gathering information on Beijing given that Japan is at the heart of optical cables that connect various parts of the region. But Japan rejected the request, citing legal restrictions and shortage of personnel in the tapping operations, the sources said.

The sources said the agency asked Japan if it could intercept personal information such as Internet and phone call data when communication data pass through Japan via cables connecting Japan, China and other parts of the region.

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