Saturday March 11 marks the sixth anniversary of the triple-disaster in north-east Japan – the earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
And the news is not good. Scientists are wondering how on earth to stabilise and decontaminate the failed reactors awash with molten nuclear fuel, which are fast turning into graveyards for the radiation-hardened robots sent in to investigate them.
The Japanese government’s estimate of Fukushima compensation and clean-up costs has doubled and doubled again and now stands at ¥21.5 trillion (US$187bn; €177bn).
Indirect costs – such as fuel import costs, and losses to agricultural, fishing and tourism industries – will likely exceed that figure.
Kendra Ulrich from Greenpeace Japan notes in a new report that “for those who were impacted by the worst nuclear disaster in a generation, the crisis is far from over. And it is women and children that have borne the brunt of human rights violations resulting from it, both in the immediate aftermath and as a result of the Japan government’s nuclear resettlement policy.”
Radiation biologist Ian Fairlie summarises the health impacts from the Fukushima disaster: “In sum, the health toll from the Fukushima nuclear disaster is horrendous. At the minimum:
+ Over 160,000 people were evacuated most of them permanently.
+ Many cases of post-trauma stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety disorders arising from the evacuations.
+ About 12,000 workers exposed to high levels of radiation, some up to 250 mSv
+ An estimated 5,000 fatal cancers from radiation exposures in future.
+ Plus similar (unquantified) numbers of radiogenic strokes, CVS diseases and hereditary diseases.
+ Between 2011 and 2015, about 2,000 deaths from radiation-related evacuations due to ill-health and suicides.
+ An, as yet, unquantified number of thyroid cancers.
+ An increased infant mortality rate in 2012 and a decreased number of live births in December 2011.”
Dr Fairlie’s report was written in August 2015 but it remains accurate. More than half of the 164,000 evacuees from the nuclear disaster remain dislocated. Efforts to restore community life in numerous towns are failing. Local authorities said in January that only 13% of the evacuees in five municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture have returned home after evacuation orders were lifted.
As for Japan’s long-hyped ‘nuclear restart’: just three power reactors are operating in Japan; before the Fukushima disaster, the number topped 50.
A nuclear power ‘crisis’?
Nuclear advocates and lobbyists elsewhere are increasingly talking about the ‘crisis’ facing nuclear power – but they don’t have the myriad impacts of the Fukushima disaster in mind: they’re more concerned about catastrophic cost overruns with reactor projects in Europe and the US.
Michael Shellenberger from the Breakthrough Institute, a US-based pro-nuclear lobby group, has recently written articles about nuclear power’s “rapidly accelerating crisis“ and the “crisis that threatens the death of nuclear energy in the West“.
A recent article from the Breakthrough Institute and the like-minded Third Way lobby group discusses “the crisis that the nuclear industry is presently facing in developed countries“.
‘Environmental Progress’, another US pro-nuclear lobby group connected to Shellenberger, has a webpage dedicated to the nuclear power crisis. Among other things, it states that 151 gigawatts (GW) of worldwide nuclear power capacity (38% of the total) could be lost by 2030 (compared to 33 GW of retirements over the past decade), and over half of the ageing US reactor fleet is at risk of closure by 2030.
As a worldwide generalisation, nuclear power can’t be said to be in crisis. To take the extreme example, China’s nuclear power program isn’t in crisis – it is moving ahead at pace. Russia’s nuclear power program, to give one more example, is moving ahead at snail’s pace, but isn’t in crisis.
Nonetheless, large parts of the worldwide nuclear industry are in deep trouble. The July 2016 World Nuclear Industry Status Report provides an overview of the troubled status of nuclear power:
+ nuclear power’s share of the worldwide electricity generation is 10.7%, well down from historic peak of 17.6% in 1996;
+ nuclear power generation in 2015 was 8.2% below the historic peak in 2006; and
+ from 2000 to 2015, 646 gigawatts (GW) of wind and solar capacity (combined) were added worldwide while nuclear capacity (not including idle reactors in Japan) fell by 8 GW.
US nuclear industry in crisis
The US nuclear industry is in crisis, with a very old reactor fleet – 44 of its 99 reactors have been operating for 40 years or more – and no likelihood of new reactors for the foreseeable future other than four already under construction.
Last September, Associated Press described one of the industry’s many humiliations: “After spending more than 40 years and $5 billion on an unfinished nuclear power plant in northeastern Alabama, the nation’s largest federal utility is preparing to sell the property at a fraction of its cost.
“The Tennessee Valley Authority has set a minimum bid of $36.4 million for its Bellefonte Nuclear Plant and the 1,600 surrounding acres of waterfront property on the Tennessee River. The buyer gets two unfinished nuclear reactors, transmission lines, office and warehouse buildings, eight miles of roads, a 1,000-space parking lot and more.”
Japanese conglomerate Toshiba and its US-based nuclear subsidiary Westinghouse are in crisis because of massive cost overruns building four AP1000 reactors in the US – the combined cost overruns amount to about US$11.2bn (€10.7bn) and counting.
Toshiba said in February 2017 that it expects to book a US$6.3bn (€5.9bn) writedown on Westinghouse, on top of a US$2.3bn (€2.1bn) writedown in April 2016. The losses exceed the US$5.4bn (€5.1bn) Toshiba paid when it bought a majority stake in Westinghouse in 2006.
Toshiba says it would likely sell Westinghouse if that was an option – but there is no prospect of a buyer. Westinghouse is, as Bloomberg noted, “too much of a mess“ to sell. And since that isn’t an option, Toshiba must sell profitable businesses instead to stave off bankruptcy.
Toshiba is seeking legal advice as to whether Westinghouse should file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. But even under a Chapter 11 filing, Reuters reported, “Toshiba could still be on the hook for up to $7 billion in contingent liabilities as it has guaranteed Westinghouse’s contractual commitments” for the US AP1000 reactors.
The Toshiba/Westinghouse crisis is creating a ripple effect. A few examples:
+ the NuGen (Toshiba/Engie) consortium has acknowledged that the plan for three AP1000 reactors at Moorside in the UK faces a “significant funding gap“ and both partners reportedly want out of the project;
+ Georgia Power, 45.7% owner of the troubled Vogtle AP1000 project, recently suspended plans for another nuclear plant in Georgia; and
+ Toshiba recently announced its intention to pull out of the plan for two Advanced Boiling Water Reactors at the South Texas Plant, having booked writedowns totaling US$638m (€605m) on the project in previous years.
The French nuclear industry is in crisis
The French nuclear industry is in its “worst situation ever“, former EDF director Gérard Magnin said in November 2016. The French government is selling assets so it can prop up its heavily indebted nuclear utilities Areva and EDF.
The current taxpayer-funded rescue of the nuclear power industry may cost the French state as much as €10bn (US$10.5bn), Reuters reported in January, and in addition to its “dire financial state, Areva is beset by technical, regulatory and legal problems.”
France has 58 operable reactors and just one under construction. French EPR reactors under construction in France and Finland are three times over budget – the combined cost overruns for the two reactors amount to about €12.7bn (US$13.4bn).
Bloomberg noted in April 2015 that Areva’s EPR export ambitions are “in tatters“. Now Areva itself is in tatters and is in the process of a government-led restructure and another taxpayer-funded bailout.
On March 1, Areva posted a €665m (US$700m) net loss for 2016. Losses in the preceding five years exceeded €10bn (US$10.5 bn). A large majority of a €5bn (US$5.3bn) recapitalisation of Areva scheduled for June 2017 will come from French taxpayers.
On February 14, EDF released its financial figures for 2016: earnings fell 6.7%, revenue declined 5.1%, net income excluding non-recurring items fell 15%, and EDF’s debt remained steady at €37.4bn (US$39.4bn). All that EDF chief executive Jean-Bernard Levy could offer was the hope that EDF would “hit the bottom of the cycle“ in 2017 and rebound next year.
EDF plans to sell €10bn (US$10.5 bn) of assets by 2020 to rein in its debt, and to sack up to 7,000 staff. The French government provided EDF with €3bn (US$3.2bn) in extra capital in 2016 and will contribute €3bn towards a €4bn (US$4.2bn) capital raising this year.
On March 8, shares in EDF hit an all-time low a day after the €4bn capital raising was launched; the stock price fell to €7.78, less than one-tenth of the €86.45 high a decade ago.
EDF has set aside €23bn (US$24.3bn) to cover reactor decommissioning and waste management costs in France – less than half of the €54bn (US$57bn) that EDF estimates will be required. A recent report by the French National Assembly’s Commission for Sustainable Development and Regional Development concluded that there is “obvious under-provisioning” and that decommissioning and waste management will likely take longer, be more challenging and cost much more than EDF anticipates.
EDF is being forced to take over parts of its struggling sibling Areva’s operations – a fate you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. And just when it seemed that things couldn’t get any worse for EDF, a fire took hold in the turbine room of one of the Flamanville reactors on February 9 and the reactor will likely be offline until late March at an estimated cost of roughly €1.2m (US$1.27m) per day.
Half of the world’s nuclear industry is in crisis and/or shutting down
Combined, the crisis-ridden US, French and Japanese nuclear industries account for 45% of the world’s ‘operable’ nuclear reactors according to the World Nuclear Association’s database, and they accounted for 50% of nuclear power generation in 2015 (and 57% in 2010).
Countries with crisis-ridden nuclear programs or phase-out policies (e.g. Germany, Belgium, and Taiwan) account for about half of the world’s operable reactors and more than half of worldwide nuclear power generation.
The Era of Nuclear Decommissioning (END)
The ageing of the global reactor fleet isn’t yet a crisis for the industry, but it is heading that way.
The assessment by the ‘Environmental Progress’ lobby group that 151 GW of worldwide nuclear power capacity could be shut down by 2030 is consistent with figures from the World Nuclear Association (132 reactor shut-downs by 2035), the International Energy Agency (almost 200 shut-downs between 2014 and 2040) and Nuclear Energy Insider (up to 200 shut-downs in the next two decades). It looks increasingly unlikely that new reactors will match shut-downs.
Perhaps the best characterisation of the global nuclear industry is that a new era is approaching – the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning (END). Nuclear power’s END will entail:
+ a slow decline in the number of operating reactors (unless growth in China can match the decline elsewhere);
+ an increasingly unreliable and accident-prone reactor fleet as ageing sets in;
+ countless battles over lifespan extensions for ageing reactors;
+ an internationalisation of anti-nuclear opposition as neighbouring countries object to the continued operation of ageing reactors (international opposition to Belgium’s reactors is a case in point);
+ a broadening of anti-nuclear opposition as citizens are increasingly supported by local, regional and national governments opposed to reactors in neighbouring countries (again Belgium is a case in point, as is Lithuanian opposition to reactors under construction in Belarus);
+ many battles over the nature and timing of decommissioning operations;
+ many battles over taxpayer bailouts for companies and utilities that haven’t set aside adequate funding for decommissioning;
+ more battles over proposals to impose nuclear waste repositories on unwilling or divided communities; and
+ battles over taxpayer bailouts for companies and utilities that haven’t set aside adequate funding for nuclear waste disposal.
As discussed in a previous article in The Ecologist, nuclear power is likely to enjoy a small, short-lived upswing in the next couple of years as reactors ordered in the few years before the Fukushima disaster come online. Beyond that, the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning sets in, characterised by escalating battles – and escalating sticker-shock – over lifespan extensions, decommissioning and nuclear waste management.
In those circumstances, it will become even more difficult than it currently is for the industry to pursue new reactor projects. A positive feedback loop could take hold and then the industry will be well and truly in crisis.
Nuclear lobbyists debate possible solutions to the nuclear power crisis
Michael Shellenberger from the Breakthrough Institute argues that a lack of standardisation and scaling partly explains the “crisis that threatens the death of nuclear energy in the West”. The constant switching of designs deprives the people who build, operate and regulate nuclear plants of the experience they need to become more efficient.
Shellenberger further argues that there is too much focus on machines, too little on human factors:
“Areva, Toshiba-Westinghouse and others claimed their new designs would be safer and thus, at least eventually, cheaper, but there were always strong reasons to doubt such claims. First, what is proven to make nuclear plants safer is experience, not new designs. …
“In fact, new designs risk depriving managers and workers the experience they need to operate plants more safely, just as it deprives construction companies the experience they need to build plants more rapidly.”
Shellenberger has a three-point rescue plan:
1/ ‘Consolidate or Die’: “If nuclear is going to survive in the West, it needs a single, large firm – the equivalent of a Boeing or Airbus – to compete against the Koreans, Chinese and Russians.”
2/ ‘Standardize or Die’: He draws attention to the “astonishing” heterogeneity of planned reactors in the UK and says the UK “should scrap all existing plans and start from a blank piece of paper”, that all new plants should be of the same design and “the criteria for choosing the design should emphasize experience in construction and operation, since that is the key factor for lowering costs.”
3/ ‘Scale or Die’: Nations “must work together to develop a long-term plan for new nuclear plant construction to achieve economies of scale”, and governments “should invest directly or provide low-cost loans.”
Josh Freed and Todd Allen from pro-nuclear lobby group Third Way, and Ted Nordhaus and Jessica Lovering from the Breakthrough Institute, argue that Shellenberger draws the wrong lessons from Toshiba’s recent losses and from nuclear power’s “longer-term struggles” in developed economies.
They argue that “too little innovation, not too much, is the reason that the industry is on life support in the United States and other developed economies”. They state that:
+ The Westinghouse AP1000 represents a fairly straightforward evolution in light-water reactor design, not a radical departure as Shellenberger claims.
+ Standardisation is important but it is not a panacea. Standardisation and building multiple reactors on the same site has limited cost escalation, not brought costs down.
+ Most of the causes of rising cost and construction delays associated with new nuclear builds in the US are attributable to the 30-year hiatus in nuclear construction, not the novelty of the AP1000 design.
+ Reasonable regulatory reform will not dramatically reduce the cost of new light-water reactors, as Shellenberger suggests.
They write this obituary for large light-water reactors: “If there is one central lesson to be learned from the delays and cost overruns that have plagued recent builds in the US and Europe, it is that the era of building large fleets of light-water reactors is over in much of the developed world.
“From a climate and clean energy perspective, it is essential that we keep existing reactors online as long as possible. But slow demand growth in developed world markets makes ten billion dollar, sixty-year investments in future electricity demand a poor bet for utilities, investors, and ratepayers.”
A radical break
The four Third Way / Breakthrough Institute authors conclude that “a radical break from the present light-water regime … will be necessary to revive the nuclear industry”. Exactly what that means, the authors said, would be the subject of a follow-up article.
So readers were left hanging – will nuclear power be saved by failed fast-reactor technology, or failed high-temperature gas-cooled reactors including failed pebble-bed reactors, or by thorium pipe-dreams or fusion pipe-dreams or molten salt reactor pipe-dreams or small modular reactor pipe-dreams? Perhaps we’ve been too quick to write off cold fusion?
The answers came in a follow-up article on February 28. The four authors want a thousand flowers to bloom, a bottom-up R&D-led nuclear recovery as opposed to top-down, state-led innovation.
They don’t just want a new reactor type (or types), they have much greater ambitions for innovation in “nuclear technology, business models, and the underlying structure of the sector” and they note that “a radical break from the light water regime that would enable this sort of innovation is not a small undertaking and will require a major reorganization of the nuclear sector.”
To the extent that the four authors want to tear down the existing nuclear industry and replace it with a new one, they share some common ground with nuclear critics who want to tear down the existing nuclear industry and not replace it with a new one.
Shellenberger also shares some common ground with nuclear critics: he thinks the UK should scrap all existing plans for new reactors and “start from a blank piece of paper“. But nuclear critics think the UK should scrap all existing plans for new reactors and not start from a blank piece of paper.
Small is beautiful?
The four Third Way / Breakthrough Institute authors argue that nuclear power must become substantially cheaper – thus ruling out large conventional reactors “operated at high atmospheric pressures, requiring enormous containment structures, multiply redundant back-up cooling systems, and water cooling towers and ponds, which account for much of the cost associated with building light-water reactors.”
Substantial cost reductions will not be possible “so long as nuclear reactors must be constructed on site one gigawatt at a time. … At 10 MW or 100 MW, by contrast, there is ample opportunity for learning by doing and economies of multiples for several reactor classes and designs, even in the absence of rapid demand growth or geopolitical imperatives.”
Other than their promotion of small reactors and their rejection of large ones, the four authors are non-specific about their preferred reactor types. Any number of small-reactor concepts have been proposed.
Small modular reactors (SMRs) have been the subject of much discussion and even more hype. The bottom line is that there isn’t the slightest chance that they will fulfil the ambition of making nuclear power “substantially cheaper” unless and until a manufacturing supply chain is established at vast expense.
And even then, it’s doubtful whether the power would be cheaper and highly unlikely that it would be substantially cheaper. After all, economics has driven the long-term drift towards larger reactors.
As things stand, no country, company or utility has any intention of betting billions on building an SMR supply chain. The prevailing scepticism is evident in a February 2017 Lloyd’s Register report based on “insights and opinions of leaders across the sector” and the views of almost 600 professionals and experts from utilities, distributors, operators and equipment manufacturers.
The Lloyd’s Register report states that the potential contribution of SMRs “is unclear at this stage, although its impact will most likely apply to smaller grids and isolated markets.” Respondents predicted that SMRs have a “low likelihood of eventual take-up, and will have a minimal impact when they do arrive”.
The Third Way / Breakthrough Institute authors are promoting small reactors because of the spectacular failure of a number of large reactor projects, but that’s hardly a recipe for success. An analysis of SMRs in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists sums up the problems:
“Without a clear-cut case for their advantages, it seems that small nuclear modular reactors are a solution looking for a problem. Of course in the world of digital innovation, this kind of upside-down relationship between solution and problem is pretty normal. Smart phones, Twitter, and high-definition television all began as solutions looking for problems.
“In the realm of nuclear technology, however, the enormous expense required to launch a new model as well as the built-in dangers of nuclear fission require a more straightforward relationship between problem and solution. Small modular nuclear reactors may be attractive, but they will not, in themselves, offer satisfactory solutions to the most pressing problems of nuclear energy: high cost, safety, and weapons proliferation.”
Small or large reactors, consolidation or innovation, Generation 2/3/4 reactors … it’s not clear that the nuclear industry will be able to recover – however it responds to its current crisis.
Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter, where a longer version of this article was originally published. firstname.lastname@example.org
Nuclear Monitor, published 20 times a year, has been publishing deeply researched, often critical articles on all aspects of the nuclear cycle since 1978.
The unexpected missile launch this weekend by North Korea hit a bulls-eye. Its perfect aim, however, owed more to Pyongyang’s mastery of international theatrics than to rocket technology.
Traveling just 310 miles, the intermediate-range Pukguksong-2 missile struck nothing but water in the Sea of Japan. But it fully succeeded, as planned, in grabbing the attention of two of North Korea’s biggest enemies: Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Shinzo Abe of Japan.
Instead of relaxing over dinner at Trump’s $200,000-per-membership Mar-a-Lago club, the two heads of state had to surround themselves with advisers and translators Saturday evening, scrambling to draft a joint statement by the light of their cell phones.
They came up with the usual bluster: Abe denounced the launch as “absolutely intolerable,” and Trump vowed to stand behind Japan, America’s “great ally, 100 percent.”
North Korean Premier Kim Jon Un certainly didn’t win any friends with the launch. China criticized it as a provocation, and Russia declared that the test was in “defiant disregard” of United Nations resolutions. But it gave Kim something to brag about at home and, more important, kept his demands front and center on the world’s stage.
No Good Options?
A Reuters news report summed up the conventional wisdom among U.S. analysts: “Few good options in Trump arsenal to counter defiant North Korea.” In a nutshell, President Obama’s eight-year policy of “strategic patience” — ratcheting up economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure — was a spectacular failure. Leaning on China to make it dictate terms to Pyongyang hasn’t worked either—in part because Beijing doesn’t want to risk triggering a collapse of North Korea’s regime. Tough U.N. resolutions condemning North Korea are worth less than a bowl of steaming kimche.
Then there is the military option. Its many advocates in Washington — including former Secretary of State John Kerry — argue the United States may need to wipe out North Korea’s nuclear and missile launch facilities, or even decapitate its regime, to prevent it from acquiring long-range missiles capable of reaching U.S. soil.
But North Korea’s nuclear facilities are designed to withstand anything short of a nuclear attack, and its conventional forces could quickly leave Seoul a smoldering ruin. How China would react to a preemptive U.S. attack is anyone’s guess. No less an authority than former Secretary of Defense William Perry says that a war with North Korea would be “catastrophic, possibly destroying the societies of both Koreas as well as causing large casualties in the U.S. military.”
A Voice of Reason
Perry is one of the few voices of reason who contests the militant groupthink prevalent in Washington. He counsels instead an attempt to engage Pyongyang in diplomacy. That strategy should appeal to the dealmaker who now inhabits the White House.
As Trump said during his campaign, responding to Hillary Clinton’s disparagement of trying to engage with Kim, “What the hell is wrong with speaking? . . . It’s called opening a dialogue.”
Perry participated in the Clinton administration’s successful negotiation of a 1994 deal with North Korea that suspended its plutonium enrichment program. George W. Bush, in his wisdom, scrapped the agreement and made North Korea a charter member of his “axis of evil.”
Watching Presidents Bush and Obama in action, Pyongyang understandably redoubled its nuclear program. “North Korea has decided, based on lessons from Iran, Iraq, and Libya, that its only sure means of survival is to be ‘too nuclear’ to fail,” remarked Scott Snyder, a Korea expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, during a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. Or as committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, put it, “What they learned is, you get rid of your WMDs, we take you out.”
That exchange was a rare recognition by Washington insiders that Kim, however, brutish and blustering, is pushing his country’s weapons program for the same reason that other nuclear powers acquired the Bomb: not to commit suicide, but to deter enemies. His regime states unequivocally that “we will not use our weapons on anyone unless they have attacked us.”
As Perry commented in January, “During my discussions and negotiations with members of the North Korean government, I have found that they are not irrational, nor do they have the objective of achieving martyrdom. Their goals, in order of priority, are: preserving the Kim dynasty, gaining international respect and improving their economy.”
Risk to Peace
Those words offer only a small measure of comfort, however. A nuclear-armed North Korea, with its inherently unstable political system, remains a huge risk to peace — all the more so if it prompts revived militarism in South Korea and Japan and unleashes a regional arms race.
The logical response is to try diplomacy, not more military threats, to reduce North Korea’s sense of isolation and paranoia. As China’s foreign ministry has repeatedly pointed out, “the root cause (of) the North Korea nuclear missile issue is the conflicts between North Korea and the United States, as well as between North and South Korea.”
The place to start resolving those conflicts, according to many Korea experts, is with negotiations to end the state of war between North Korea and its adversaries. The Korean War ended in 1953 with a temporary armistice, not a peace treaty. Washington’s failure to negotiate such a treaty tells a deeply insecure Pyongyang that the United States views its regime as illegitimate and ripe for forcible change.
By refusing to consider unconditional normalization of relations with North Korea, President Obama forfeited real opportunities to rein in its nuclear program. Instead, he continued holding huge annual military exercises with South Korea, complete with mock amphibious landings, which sent Pyongyang into “a frenzy of bloodthirsty threats and sabre rattling.”
North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations told a reporter in November that diplomacy remains a viable option: “If (Trump) really gives up the hostile policy towards DPRK, withdrawing all the military equipment from South Korea, including the U.S. troops and coming to conclude the peace treaty, then I think it might be an opportunity to discuss the relations as we did in the 1990s.”
That was a rhetorical opening position, not a final demand, but it pointed to a peaceful way forward. Diplomacy offers no panacea. In particular, nothing will likely put North Korea’s nuclear genie back in its lamp anytime soon.
As Perry observed, “We lost the opportunity to negotiate with a non-nuclear North Korea when we cut off negotiations in 2001, before it had a nuclear arsenal. The most we can reasonably expect today is an agreement that lowers the dangers of that arsenal. The goals would be an agreement with Pyongyang to not export nuclear technology, to conduct no further nuclear testing and to conduct no further ICBM testing. These goals are worth achieving and, if we succeed, could be the basis for a later discussion of a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula.”
Joe Cirincione, a leading arms control expert, reminds us that “It was the negotiations, not the sanctions, that ultimately stopped Iran’s (nuclear) program.”
President Trump, a harsh critic of the nuclear treaty with Iran, now stands at a critical crossroads with North Korea. Will he heed the increasingly loud demands of interventionists for greater shows of force on the Korean peninsula, or channel candidate Trump and seek talks with Premier Kim? It’s no exaggeration to say that the fate of world peace may rest in part on his decision.
TOKYO – The interdepartmental council on joint economic activities with Russia on the South Kuril Islands was formed in Japan and its first session will take place on the evening of February 7, Japanese media reported Tuesday.
“The government will work as a team to reach substantial results quickly,” Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said, as quoted by Kyodo news agency.
According to the outlet, Kishida said he would head the council, which will consider possibilities of the cooperation with Russia on fishery and tourism.
Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko will also reportedly be part of the council, as well as the representatives of the Finance Ministry, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, Health, Labour, and Welfare Ministry.
On February 1, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the two countries agreed to hold consultations on joint economic activities on the South Kuril Islands in Tokyo in March.
On December 15-16, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Japan to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The sides agreed to start developing economic cooperation in the disputed area.
The Kuril Islands are the subject of the long-standing territorial dispute between Russia and Japan. Japan lays claim to Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan islands and the Habomai group of islets. The territorial dispute has prevented Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty after World War II.
The governor of Okinawa has used a trip to Washington to reiterate his opposition to the heavy presence of US military bases on the island, urging all Japanese citizens to rethink security arrangements between Tokyo and Washington.
Outspoken Governor Takeshi Onaga arrived in the US earlier this week, holding a press conference to convey his discontent with the high number of US military bases in Okinawa, which hosts 74 percent of Japan’s total US military presence.
“I think all Japanese citizens should think about the Japan-US security arrangements. US military bases occupy 6 percent of the whole of Japan and 70 percent of those US military bases are in places where the population density is about the same as Tokyo. I don’t like it anymore…” he said in response to a question from RT’s Gayane Chichakyan at a press conference.
He went on to cite jet crashes related to the US bases, as well as sexual assaults which have been linked to US soldiers since World War II.
Onaga and citizens of Okinawa have long protested the heavy presence of US military bases and troops on the island, with mass demonstrations drawing thousands last year.
Of particular concern is the planned relocation of the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station from Ginowan to the less-populated area of Henoko, in Nago.
Onaga is against the relocation, stating it would destroy the environment of the bay surrounding the new site.
In December, the governor was defeated in a lawsuit filed by the central government regarding the air station, with Japan’s Supreme Court finding that it was illegal for Onaga to revoke the approval granted by his predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima, for land reclamation required to build replacement runways at the new base.
But Okinawans could soon see their hopes answered, if President Donald Trump follows through with a campaign statement in which he said that he wants foreign nations to pay for US presence and protection in those countries.
Instead of seeing Trump’s statement as a threat, Okinawa policy adviser Moritake Tomikawa said a withdrawal of US troops would suit Okinawans just fine.
“Mr. Trump says if Japan doesn’t pay more than he’s going to withdraw the troops from Japan. As far as Okinawa people are concerned, that’s fine…” he said.
It is unclear, however, where Trump stands on the specific Okinawa issue. The new defense secretary, James Mattis, is currently in Japan, though his views on the issue also remain unclear.
Japan spends an estimated $1.5 billion a year on the US bases, while Washington dished out around $5.5 billion in 2016, according to the Pentagon.
The neoconservative Henry Jackson Society (HJS) think tank is on the payroll of the Japanese embassy, charged with drafting in public figures to spread anti-Chinese propaganda, investigators claim.
The Times’ investigation suggests the London-based HJS is paid £10,000 (US$12,500) per month to spread anti-Chinese propaganda, including through public figures like former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind.
HJS frames itself as a pro-intervention and pro-capitalist voice, which aims to spread freedom and democracy around the world. It is run by the academic and failed Tory parliamentary candidate Alan Mendoza.
The deal between the think tank and the embassy was reportedly reached to counter the growing cooperation between the UK and China, championed by former Chancellor George Osborne.
The agreement reflects the rising tensions between China and Japan – the latter a close US ally in the Asia-Pacific region.
Rifkind confirmed to the Times over the weekend that he had been asked by HJS in August to put his name to an article called ‘How China could switch off Britain’s lights in a crisis if we let them build Hinkley C’, which criticized a UK-Chinese nuclear power station deal.
The comment piece claimed there may be a risk of a Chinese-funded power station having cyber-backdoors built into it which could present a risk to UK security.
Rifkin told the Times he had not been aware of the links between HJS and the Japanese embassy and said the think tank “ought to have informed me of that relationship when they asked me to support the article they provided. It would have been preferable if they had.”
The report indicates that HJS originally approached the Japanese embassy alongside a PR firm named Media Intelligence Partners (MIP), which is run by a former Tory PR man named Nick Wood.
The Times says it saw an early version of a proposal which would see the think-tank and PR firm develop a communications strategy for the embassy for a fee of £15,000 per month.
This, they said, would allow Japan’s concerns to be placed “on the radar of mainstream UK journalists and politicians.” It includes journalists from major papers like the Telegraph and the Guardian.
Other aims included the creation of “an engaged and interested cadre of high-level politicians” and a focus on the “threat to Western strategic interests posed by Chinese expansionism.”
The actual deal reached was for a lower figure of £10,000 plus expenses, according to the Times.
Goodbye President Obama! Japan is mourning your imminent departure. It is mourning because you were such a good friend, an exceptionally predictable ruler, and a truly traditional imperialist. You spoke so well, and tormented all those unruly colonies with admirable zeal and effectiveness!
What is soon coming is untested and therefore frightening. Obedient and disciplined Japan historically detests unpredictability.
It doesn’t really mind prostituting itself, but only if it brings great tangible benefits and as long as strict protocol and decorum are fully respected. The upcoming scenario could be frightening: Who knows? That new big ugly chap across the ocean could soon ruin all etiquette; calling whores and profiteers by their real names.
The Japanese government and big business are now shaking in dread, day and night. What changes are coming? How to please the new foul-speaking lord?
10 billion dollars will be spent — or should we say ‘invested’ — in the United States by Toyota car giant, in order to appease the new Emperor? Why not? Every penny of it is worth it! The Emperor has to be kept happy. Japan is ready to arm itself to the teeth, provoking both North Korea but especially China? Yes and yes again, as long as the global ‘balance of power’ so greatly in favor of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan for decades, remains intact.
The Conservative Prime Minister of the country, Shinzo Abe, doesn’t want any ‘dangerous’ developments, any deviations. As far as he is concerned, things are just fine as they were. Not perfect, but fine. Japan has been exactly where it should be: on its back, ageing, but still desirable, eating mountains of caviar and oysters.
Things are, however, ‘developing’, rapidly and some would say, irreversibly. The new US president, Donald Trump, is clearly allergic to China as well as to several other Asian countries. He is preaching protectionism and an extreme form of nationalism, something that used to be synonymous with Japan’s trade and business practices of the past.
Somehow, this does not appear to be in Japan’s favor. Japan was allowed to be protectionist, in exchange for its unconditional political obedience. It thought that it was awarded almost exclusive privileges.
Now paradoxically, Japan is trying to save the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation free trade agreement, which Donald Trump is promising to nuke. Japan’s parliament even ratified the pact at the end of 2016. Foreign Policy Magazine (FPM) declared in its report published on January 2017: “Abe Wants to Be the Last Free Trade Samurai”.
In fact, Shinzo Abe is desperately trying to preserve Japan’s prominent position, at least in Asia, and mainly against China, which is intensively negotiating its own economic partnership agreement with several Asian countries called “Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership” (RCEP). Mr. Abe is also trying to push through his brutal neo-liberal reforms that are encountering resistance from the Japanese public.
TPP gives the government the handy excuse it now needs to take unpopular reform measures meant to give a new push to the Abenomics program. Blaming outsiders for such ‘un-Japanese’ actions is a popular political maneuver that even gets a special name ‘gai-atsu’.
Japan’s desperate desire to remain the regional superpower is pushing it even closer towards the West, and particularly the United States. Since WWII, the country has been fully dependent on Washington (and its market fundamentalist dogmas), to such an extent that it almost totally abandoned its own global vision and foreign policy.
In the meantime, Japan is trying to even further penetrate and subjugate various Southeast Asian countries, literally wrestling them away from the increasing influence of China and Russia. It is a very complex, often bizarre game, as Abe’s government is habitually acting by inertia, doing what was expected of it by the earlier US administrations, not necessarily by the upcoming one.
Once totally under Western control, the Southeast Asian monolith is beginning to crack: the Philippines under President Duterte and Vietnam after some fundamental leadership changes in early 2016 are moving closer towards China and away from Washington’s orbit. Even Thailand, one of the most dependable Cold War allies of the West is quickly discovering the countless advantages that come from a stronger relationship with Beijing.
In Asia, resistance against Western imperialism is on the rise, and Japan is in panic. It collaborated for so long that it lost all memories of acting independently. In exchange for betraying Asia, it used to reap great benefits; the gap between its astronomical standards of living and those in the rest of Asia used to be exorbitant, but now, the Human Development Index (HDI) rates such countries as South Korea, even higher. Socialist and fiercely independent China is catching up, not only economically but also in terms of science, technology and standards of living.
The essential question is never openly asked, but is creeping into the subconscious thoughts of many Japanese people: ‘Was it really worth it to collaborate so shamelessly with the West, and for so long?’
The more confusing and unsettling the answers, the more aggressive the behavior of many ordinary Japanese citizens: racism towards the Chinese and Koreans is on the increase. Often it is propelled by a frustration that accompanies defeat; sometimes it comes from shame.
The present is intertwined with history and its interpretation.
In Nagasaki, I discussed once again the complex intricacies related to Japan’s past, with the legendary Australian historian Geoff Gunn.
Japan never really took full responsibility for the tremendous pain it caused several Asian countries, but particularly China, where around 35 million people vanished during the brutal, genocidal occupation.
It is also silent about its role during the Korean War, and the crimes committed by its corporations in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.
However, it portrays itself as a victim, because of the atomic bombs that destroyed two of its cities – Hiroshima and Nagasaki – at the end of WWII, and because of the annexation of several of its islands by the Soviet Union.
Of course, the nuclear bombing of the Japanese cities by the US Air Force (or the fire bombing of Tokyo) was not meant to be a ‘punishment’ for the monstrous crimes Japan committed in China or Korea. It was simply a thinly disguised experiment on human beings, as well as an aggressive message and warning to the Soviet Union.
In Japan, everything is taken out of historic context. Collective memory is hazy. The occupation of several Asian and South Pacific countries, the alliance with the European fascist powers, WWII itself, the US occupation and consequent collaboration, Japan’s profiteering during the Korean War, as well as the constant siding with the imperialist policies of the West: it all has been covered by a comforting and softening duvet; by cozy make-believe pseudo reality.
While the horrendous US military and air force bases located in Okinawa and Honshu have been intimidating both China and North Korea, Japan has been distributing, hypocritically, all over the world its multi-lingual columns with “May Peace Prevail On Earth” signs, trying to feel good, and congratulating itself for its “peaceful constitution” (composed by the US after the War).
In 2016, Shinzo Abe’s close ally, Barak Obama, visited the Peace Park in Hiroshima City. He did not apologize to the victims of the nuclear blast. Instead, he posed with two traditional Japanese paper cranes, the local symbols of peace, and he spoke about the suffering of people during the wars. He wrote a message to promote the abolition of nuclear weapons, and then signed the book, putting the paper crane next to his signature.
Servile Japanese media dutifully covered the event. Nobody died from laughter; nobody puked publicly, while recalling countless wars, deadly covert operations and coups as well as targeted killings that took place while Mr. Obama was the boss of his aggressive Empire.
A few months later, Mr. Abe visited Pearl Harbor. Like his US counterpart did in Hiroshima, he spoke about the suffering of the US servicemen based in Hawaii during the Japanese attack. He did not apologize, but he turned sentimental, even poetic.
At the end, almost everyone felt really well, at least those living in Japan and the West. Others do not matter too much, anyway!
Now the old script is quickly becoming obsolete. The new director is facing the stage, shouting at the actors, hitting seats with his cane, insulting protégés of his predecessors.
Japan is terrified. It likes continuity and certainty. It plays by the rules, the older the better.
This is not looking good. It may not end well, not well at all.
China and Russia are rising, indignant and finally united. Several Asian countries are switching sides. President of the Philippines is calling Western leaders ‘sons-of-whores’. India, now the most populous country on Earth, has gritted its teeth and ‘just in case’ got itself one more chair, now sitting on two.
At least some in Japan are now (secretly and quietly) suspecting that all along they were betting on the totally wrong horse.
How can a samurai break all his allegiances without losing face? How can he save his ass, when his armor begins to burn? It is not easy; the etiquette of honor is extremely strict, even if honor consists, if stripped of its decorative layer, of brainlessness and sleaze.
One possible and very traditional escape is a ritual suicide. It seems that Japan’s leadership is committing exactly that: it is raising the banner abandoned on the battlefield by the previous warlord, it is trying to gather some scattered allies, and then lead them to the futile battle against the mightiest creature on Earth – the Dragon, and by association, against the dragon’s friend and comrade – the Bear.
It is all beginning to look like a kitschy martial art movie, or like a desperate set of irrational moves performed by a gambler before he reaches absolute bankruptcy.
All this could be, however, extremely deceiving, as Mr. Abe is actually not a fool. He is playing a very high game and he may still have some chances of winning: if the new Lord, Mr. Trump, decides to exceed all previous rulers by his brutality and aggressiveness, and re-hire the old and well-tested samurai, Japan, for his deadly onslaught against humanity.
It is worth remembering that throughout Japan’s history, not all samurais were fighting for honor. Most of them were for hire.
Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are revolutionary: novel Aurora and two bestselling works of political non-fiction: Exposing Lies Of The Empire and Fighting Against Western Imperialism.
Malaysia is another old time America’s ally to shift away from the US orbit following the Philippines. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak visited China on October 31-November 6 to sign 14 agreements totaling 143.64 billion ringgit ($34.25 billion), including a defence deal. Malaysia agreed to buy four Chinese littoral combat ships. Two will be built in China and two in Malaysia.
The rapprochement has taken place despite the differences over the South China Sea territorial disputes. During the visit, both countries pledged closer cooperation to handle the problem bilaterally to counter US influence in the region.
Najib Razak said Malaysia welcomed the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank which marks a turning point «of peaceful dialogue, not foreign intervention, in sovereign states». Global institutions needed to be inclusive of «countries that were given no say in the legal and security infrastructure that was set up by the victors of the Second World War», he noted.
China has increasingly invested in Malaysia and is implementing major infrastructure and other projects in the country. Chinese companies are widely expected to win a planned $15bn high-speed rail project linking Kuala Lumpur and Singapore – a new rail line on Malaysia’s east coast. With the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in jeopardy, the US seems to have little leverage over Malaysian foreign policy.
The trip marks another potential setback for US Asia «pivot» policy. The event took place against the background of worsening relations between the US and the Philippines. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has made statements about his intent to break the military alliance with the United States and shift to the partnership with China and Russia. He had visited Beijing to defy America just two weeks before Mr. Razak’s trip.
Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asia politics analyst, said, «This is the new regional norm. Now China is implementing the power and the US is in retreat», adding Washington’s Asia «pivot» was «dead in the water».
Russia-Malaysia relations are also on the rise. In 2017 the two countries will mark the 50th anniversary since the diplomatic ties were established in 1967.
In May, the Malaysian PM visited Sochi, Russia, leading a delegation to the ASEAN-Russia Commemorative Summit. Back then, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, «We will be pleased to develop relations in the humanitarian sphere, in the economy, investments and of course in the military sphere, or in the sphere of military-technical cooperation».
The Russia-produced Sukhoi Su-30MKM is the most advanced fighter in the inventory of the Royal Malaysian Air Force. The contract to deliver 18 jets was signed in 2003 during the Russian president’s official visit to Malaysia. The purchase of Su-34 and Su-35 Russian jets is on the agenda.
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishamuddin Hussein believes his country should «look to the future, to a new era of military-technical cooperation with Russia». Russia took part in the 15th Defense Services Asia Exhibition and Conference on April 18-21, 2016, in Kuala Lumpur to demonstrate the Mi-171Sh helicopter, the T-90MS tank, the BTR-82A armored vehicle, and the Pantsir-S1 air defense system.
Malaysia will explore the possibility of signing a free trade agreement (FTA) with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
There are other facts to prove the fact that the US loses its clout in the Asia Pacific region. Japanese banks and development institutions may offer loans to Russian regional banks. Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko told TASS in an interview.
It was also reported that the government-backed Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) will provide about 4 billion yen ($38.5 million) in financing to Sberbank of Russia, in open defiance of Western sanctions. The US and the European Union have effectively banned lending to certain Russian companies and financial institutions, including Sberbank, as part of sanctions imposed on Russia in 2014. The announcement comes before the President Putin’s visit to Japan in December.
The JBIC also plans to make investments into the Yamal LNG gas project. The JBIC is likely to set up a special fund to invest in Russian projects together with the Russian Direct Investment Fund.
The economic cooperation with Russia definitely threatens the Group of Seven’s united front on sanctions. The move will most certainly provoke Washington’s anger but Tokyo finds the development of ties with Russia important enough to risk it. The US influence in the region is not strong enough to prevent Japan from pursuing its national interests.
With the Philippines and Malaysia shifting away from US orbit, Washington is finding itself with increasingly fewer allies in the region. The Asia Pacific «pivot» appears to be another foreign policy failure in addition to the Middle Eastern debacle. In addition, the US faces a major setback as Europe rejects the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
America is a global power in retreat. A new US president will have to face this reality. The events in the Asia Pacific region provide a good example to support this obvious fact. In a very short period of time the US has lost two major allies in the region. Japan defies the anti-Russia sanctions regime. The American century seems to be fading away as other poles of power emerge on the world map.
October 25th is the start of a three-day visit to Japan by the President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte. During his visit, Duterte will meet with Japanese Emperor Akihito and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The leaders plan to discuss a wide range of issues of bilateral cooperation.
The weakening of the US in the region
Duterte’s visit to Japan comes just after a similar trip of the Philippines leader to China. This fits in with a recent trend characterized by the considerable weakening of the position of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region. China’s diplomatic goal is to bring together the US’s traditional allies into their sphere of influence. To this, success can be attributed to the warming relations between Beijing and Bangkok, as well as the recent breakthrough in the negotiations between Rodrigo Duterte and Xi Jinping.
Setting an example
The Philippine leader’s position and his actions in the international arena should be an example for a more powerful neighbor – Japan. In spite of its economic development, Tokyo is very much under the influence of Washington and unable to pursue an independent policy, while Rodrigo Duterte with his actions is guided solely by national interests.
Eurasian direction of Duterte
After the trip to Japan, Rodrigo Duterte is planning to go to Moscow. Thus we can clearly see his geopolitical course. Faced with all the leading leaders in the region ignoring Washington, Duterte declares himself as a consistent supporter of a multi-polar approach. The fact that such can be the situation with a country that isn’t very powerful, without nuclear weapons or huge economic potential, says that the US can not cope any longer with its function as a global leader.
The global mainstream media have loudly hailed the stunning success of the peoples uprising against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP in the light of its demise. In the last few years protests broke out all over Europe as the unelected bureaucrats steamed ahead with this unpopular trade deal, even after the results of the largest ever consultation study in the EU Commission’s history resulted in a 97% negative response of 150,000 people.
The emerging movement spawned enormous online activism never seen before, culminating in the largest petition in Europe’s history with a staggering collective of over 3.2 million signatures delivered by passionate foot-soldiers right to the epicentre of where the political elite inhabit in the EU. The beating heart of TTIP activism was Berlin, Paris and London. This is not to forget the huge protest effort made by citizens across almost all of the EU’s major cities.
When preparing for TTIP negotiations, 560 meetings took place between 2012 and 2013. Just 4% were represented by public interest and civil society. Unashamedly, the Commission allowed 92% of all TTIP meetings to be dominated by lobbyists and corporate trade associations Today, these shadowy agitators amount to over 30,000 grey suits stalking the halls of the Commission HQ in the de facto capital of the European Union in Brussels.
In May of this year Wikileaks confirmed that TTIP amounted to “a huge transfer of power from people to big business.” Greenpeace Netherlands then leaked 248 secret pages of the controversial trade deal between the U.S. and EU, exposing how environmental regulations, climate protections and consumer rights were effectively being “bartered away behind closed doors.” Tensions amongst civil society rose to fever pitch with the devastating news.
Der Spiegel Germany wrote “Protests Threaten Trans-Atlantic Trade Deal” as the leaks became public. With concerted effort activists seemingly brought the trade agreement to the brink of collapse within days. At the same time, Merkel’s grandly staged meeting with US President Barack Obama in Hanover was nothing more than showmanship. It aimed to show the strain of negotiations, as if somehow Germany (and therefore the EU) was going to get a better deal from TTIP and pacify the building rage of her citizens.
As if to rub salt into the wounds a report by TruePublica, published in The European Financial Review confirmed that corruption in the EU trading bloc had now reached 14 per cent of GDP – a staggering €1 trillion. By now 70 per cent of all European citizens believe corruption to be at the heart of their respective governments and the EU Commission itself, and that a corporate coup d’tat is taking the place of democratic principles that Europe fought so hard for over generations.
Then, out of the blue, an unexpected announcement is made last week. The media on all sides of the spectrum is broadly going along with the story that French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel have agreed that negotiations between the EU and the US on TTIP, have essentially failed. That’s it – the deal is dead. Hoorah!
The Telegraph – “EU’s TTIP trade deal with the US has collapsed, says Germany”
The Independent – “TTIP negotiations should stop, French government says”
ZeroHedge – “The Americans Give Us Nothing”: France Effectively Kills TTIP’
RT – ‘TTIP negotiations between EU and US have de facto failed’ – German economy minister”
Not so fast. You don’t think that the American’s are going to let the biggest trade deal in human history fail just because 97% of citizens reject it do you? No, France and Germany just need a plan. After Brexit, Britain can stay out of the firing line of the protest movement for a while.
So, they looked to Japan. It had the same problem with its version of the trade deal similarly called TPP. Mass protests broke out as the same secret meetings gripped the political foreground. Its Prime Minister “Shinzo Abe, instructed the coalition early in the year not to “forcibly” proceed with the TPP negotiations until after elections, Kyodo News reported. Abe genuinely “feared a voter backlash in the Upper House elections” amid the growing scandal of a 242 page leaked document laying bare the bones of the deal. Having been elected June 11th, Abe now intends to force the deal through “this fall”.
I made enquiries with sources close to the ground on the EU/US TTIP deal along the same lines; was this simply a delaying tactic until after elections in 2017 for France’s Hollande and Germany’s Merkel? The response was not wholly unexpected.
“The seemingly early celebration of the end of TTIP has also surprised us a bit. Despite last week’s statements by the German and French trade ministers and the way these have been portrayed, we are continuing to campaign against the deal.”
In another exchange:
“The declarations of French and German leaders aim to: divert attention away from CETA, reduce the numbers in the streets of Germany on 17th September, put TTIP on hold while elections take place in France, Germany and the USA. The fifteenth round of TTIP negotiations will happen in the first week of October… This has been confirmed by our US friends.”
I then contacted Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO). It is a research and campaign group working to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups in EU policy making. They have been exposing the misinformation and propaganda of the EU Commission for years.
The CEO response to my same question was emphatic and quite clear:
“Public opposition to CETA and TTIP has led French and German leaders to please voters with words against TTIP. Unfortunately, the next round of TTIP negotiations is scheduled for early October and no EU leader has publicly said he or she will vote against CETA in the EU Council in October. This is clearly not the end of TTIP and CETA, just the beginning of electoral campaigns in France and Germany.”
Germany and France have taken the same stance as Japan on these trade agreements, they are not dead at all – they are lying.
I then spoke to Peter Koenig, an economist and geopolitical analyst. He is also former World Bank staff and worked extensively around the world in the fields of environment and water resources and posed the same question. He said:
“Following a debate on PressTV Edition Française, where I was one of the interviewees, the focus was on the German and French Ministers’ expressed conclusion that TTIP negotiations failed. I wrote an article “The TTIP is Dead”, hoping that spreading of this ‘promise’ by the highest authorities of the two key countries in the EU would make sure among the European populace that any deviation from this ‘promise’ would be perceived as a lie and receive strongest public expressions of protest.”
“In the meantime, it has become clear that the TTIP and TISA ‘deals’ are not at all dead. In fact, shortly after the German and French announcements, Jean-Claude Juncker, the unelected President of the European Commission, declared majestically that for him the negotiations are not dead.”
“There are other means to infiltrate the TTIP into the EU, i.e. through CETA and according to Juncker, doesn’t need ratification of each EU members’ parliament. Then there is TISA, the even more secret ‘trade agreement’ between 50 countries around the globe. TISA could easily be used to clandestinely impose TTIP rules on Europe.”
Nick Dearden, Director of Global Justice Now confirmed what Peter Koenig is saying in a Guardian piece “Think TTIP is a threat to democracy? There’s another trade deal that’s already signed”
“TTIP is not alone. Its smaller sister deal between the EU and Canada is called CETA (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). CETA is just as dangerous as TTIP; indeed it’s in the vanguard of TTIP-style deals, because it’s already been signed by the European commission and the Canadian government. It now awaits ratification over the next 12 months.
The one positive thing about CETA is that it has already been signed and that means that we’re allowed to see it. Its 1,500 pages show us that it’s a threat to not only our food standards, but also the battle against climate change, our ability to regulate big banks to prevent another crash and our power to renationalise industries.
CETA contains a new legal system, open only to foreign corporations and investors. Should the British government make a decision, say, to outlaw dangerous chemicals, improve food safety or put cigarettes in plain packaging, a Canadian company can sue the British government for “unfairness”. And by unfairness this simply means they can’t make as much profit as they expected. The “trial” would be held as a special tribunal, overseen by corporate lawyers.”
What is missing from this statement is that any American corporation headquartered in Canada can sue any nation in the EU via CETA for the same reasons – namely, loss of ‘expected’ profits. They don’t actually have to be Canadian corporations.
As Global Justice also confirms, Canada has itself fought and lost a plentiful and diverse range of legal cases brought by US corporations under the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) for “outlawing carcinogenic chemicals in petrol, reinvesting in local communities and halting the devastation of quarries.” If TTIP doesn’t bring this horrific erosion of democratic power to the shores of Europe, CETA will. ‘Brexit’ will mean for nothing. It will be sold to the British people as a global trade agreement which will be heralded as a great success and supported by much of the media who themselves have a vested interest in such deals.
In the end, does it matter if it’s called TTIP, CETA, TISA and the like, they are all shadowy unaccountable acronyms designed to enrich the few via extreme neoliberal capitalism under the guise of free trade.
Protest sign urging global conservation meeting to address the environmental damage from U.S. military bases. (Photo by Ann Wright)
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has come in for criticism due to its lack of attention to the detrimental effects of wars and military operations on nature. Considering the degree of harm to the environment coming from these human activities, one would think that the organization might have set aside some time at its World Conservation Congress this past week in Hawaii to specifically address these concerns.
Yet, of the more than 1,300 workshops crammed into the six-day marathon environmental meeting in Honolulu, followed by four days of discussion about internal resolutions, nothing specifically addressed the destruction of the environment by military operations and wars.
The heavy funding the IUCN gets from governments is undoubtedly the rationale for not addressing this “elephant in the room” at a conference for the protection of the endangered planet – a tragic commentary on a powerful organization that should acknowledge all anti-environmental pressures.
At a presentation at the USA Pavilion during the conference, senior representatives of the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy regaled the IUCN audience of conservationists with tales about caring for the environment, including protecting endangered species, on hundreds of U.S. military bases in the United States.
The presenters did not mention what is done on the over 800 U.S. military bases outside of the United States. In the one-hour military style briefing, the speakers failed to mention the incredible amounts of fossil fuels used by military aircraft, ships and land vehicles that leave mammoth carbon footprints around the world. Also not mentioned were wars that kill humans, animals and plants; military exercise bombing of entire islands and large swaths of land; and the harmful effects of the burn pits which have incinerated the debris of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Each military service representative focused on the need for training areas to prepare the U.S. military to “keep peace in the world.” Of course, no mention was made of “keeping the peace” through wars of choice that have killed hundreds of thousands of persons, animals and plants, and the bombing of the cultural heritage in many areas around the world including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.
Miranda Ballentine, Air Force Assistant Secretary for Installations, the Environment and Energy, said the U.S. Air Force has over 5,000 aircraft, more than all the airlines in the United States — yet she never mentioned how many gallons of jet fuel are used by these aircraft, nor how many people, animals and cultural sites the aircraft have bombed.
To give one some idea of the scale of the footprint of U.S. military bases, Ballentine said Air Force has over 160 installations, including 70 major installation covering over 9 million square miles of land, larger than the country of Switzerland, plus 200 miles of coastland.
Incredibly, Ballentine said that due to commercial development around military bases, military bases have become “islands of conservation” — conservation takes place inside the protected base while there are larger conservation issues outside the fence lines of the bases.
Adding to the mammoth size of the military base footprint, Dr. Christine Altendorf, the regional director of the U.S. Army’s Installation Management Command of the Pacific, said U.S. Army bases have 12.4 million acres of land, including 1.3 million acres of wetlands, 82,605 archeological sites, 58,887 National Historical Landmarks and 223 endangered species on 118 installations.
The U.S. Navy’s briefer, a Navy Commander, added to the inventory of military equipment, saying the Navy has 3,700 aircraft; 276 ships, including 10 aircraft carriers; 72 submarines. Seventy naval installations in the United States have 4 million acres of land and 500 miles of coastline. The Navy presenter said the Navy has never heard of a marine mammal that has been harmed by U.S. Naval vessels or acoustic experiments in the past ten years.
Only One Question
At the end of the three presentations, there was time for only one question — and luckily, my intense hand waving paid off and I got to ask: “How can you conserve nature when you are bombing nature in wars of choice around the world, practicing military operations in areas that have endangered species like on the islands of Oahu, Big Island of Hawaii, Pagan, Tinian, Okinawa and bombing islands into wastelands like the Hawaiian island of Koho’olawe and the Puerto Rican island of Vieques and now you want to use the North Marianas ‘Pagan’ Island as a bombing target. And how does the construction of the new South Korean naval base in pristine marine areas of Jeju Island that will be used by the U.S. Navy and the proposed construction at Henoko of the runways into the pristine Oura Bay in Okinawa fit into conservation of nature?”
Interestingly, in the large audience of approximately 100 people, not one of them applauded the question indicating that either audience was composed primarily of Department of Defense employees, or that the conservationists are uneasy about confronting the U.S. government and particularly the U.S. military about its responsibility for its large role in the destruction of much of the planet’s environment.
The Navy representative was the only person to respond to my question. He reiterated the national security necessity for military exercises to practice to “defend peace around the world.” To his credit, he acknowledged the role the public has in commenting on the possible impact of military exercises. He said that over 32,000 comments from the public have been made on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the possibility of artillery firing and aircraft bombing of the Northern Marianas island of Tinian — that has only 2,300 inhabitants.
Despite all odds, someone in Hawaii was able to get an exhibit of photographs of the cleanup of Koho’olawe placed on the third floor of the Hawaii Convention Center. There was no sign announcing the exhibition, just a series of photos with some explanation. In five days of attending the conference, I observed that 95 percent of the conference attendees who walked past the exhibition did not stop to look at it – until I stopped them and explained what it was about. Then, they were very interested.
A crater that was created on the Hawaiian island of Koho’olawe from massive explosions of TNT in 1965. (Photo from Hawaii Archive)
From 1941 to 1990, the island of Koho’olawe was used as a bombing range for U.S. military aircraft and naval vessels. One photograph in the exhibition showed the crater called “Sailor’s Hat” which was made by several massive explosions of TNT in 1965 to recreate and study the effects of large explosions on nearby ships and personnel to simulate in some manner the effects of a nuclear explosion. The crater affected the island’s fresh water aquifer and now no artesian water remains on the island.
After Hawaiians stopped the bombing through their protests and by staying on the island during bombings from the 1970s, the U.S. Navy returned Koho’olawe to the State of Hawaii in 2004 after a 10-year clean-up process. But only 66 percent of the surface has been cleared of unexploded ordnance (UXO), and only 10 percent cleared to a depth of 4 feet. Twenty-three percent of the surface remains uncleared and 100 percent of the waters surrounding the island have not been cleared of UXO, putting divers and ships at risk.
Okinawan Environmental Activists
Environmental activists from Okinawa had a booth at the IUCN at which they told about the attempt of the U.S. military and the national Japanese government to construct a runway complex into Oura Bay, a pristine marine area that that is the home of the protected species of marine mammal, the dugong.
The Deputy Governor of Okinawa and the Mayor of Nago city, Okinawa, both of whom have been key figures in the grassroots campaign to stop the construction of the runways and the lawsuits filed by the provincial government of Okinawa against the federal Japanese government, gave presentations about the citizens’ struggle against the construction of the runways.
However, there was no mention of the environmental effects on the marine environment from the construction of a huge new naval base on Jeju Island, South Korea, the site of the previous IUCN conference four years ago. At that conference, IUCN, no doubt at the request of the South Korean government, refused to allow citizen activists to have a booth inside the convention or make presentations like the Okinawans did this year. As a result, the Jeju Island campaigners were forced to stay outside the conference site.
Four years later in the 2016 WCC conference in Hawaii, the Government of Japan and the Province of Jeju Island sponsored a large multi-media pavilion about Jeju island which did not mention the construction of the new naval base and the destruction of the cultural heritage of the site nor the displacement of women divers who had dived at the location for generations.
On Sept. 3, local groups in Honolulu came to the Hawaii Convention Center with signs to remind the IUCN of the U.S. militarization of Asia and the Pacific. Signs and posters from local environmentalists cited the environmental impact from the huge 108,863-acre Pohakuloa bombing range on the Big Island of Hawaii, the largest U.S. military installation in the Pacific; the Aegis missile test center on the island of Kauai; and the four large U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine bases on the island of Oahu.
Other signs referenced the extensive number of U.S. military bases in Japan, Okinawa, South Korea, Guam and new U.S. military installations in the Philippines and Australia.
Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She also served 16 years as a US diplomat in US Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. She was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan in December 2001. She resigned from the US Department of State in March 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.
With more than 34 trillion cubic meters, Iran owns the world’s largest natural gas reserves but its share of global trade in gas is less than 1%
Iran is pitching its massive gas sector for trade with Asia where it sees a better market for exports than Europe.
“Gas prices are more attractive in East Asia than in Europe,” Deputy Petroleum Minister for trade and international affairs Amir-Hossein Zamaninia has said.
The country hopes to eventually export natural gas to East Asia, including Japan, he told the Kyodo news agency in an interview on Sunday.
Zamaninia held the prospect of Iran and Japan forming a long-term partnership for the supply of Iranian LNG to the Asian country.
“Japan has a great potential of becoming a major partner for Iran in developing its gas industry,” he said.
The two countries have a chequered history of trade relations. They had to ditch a massive petrochemical project in 1991 as the Iraqi war of 1980-1988 under former dictator Saddam Hussein dragged on.
In 2010, Japan’s state-owned Inpex walked out of an agreement to develop Iran’s South Azadegan oilfield under US pressures.
Tokyo, however, was among the first countries to rush through a series of measures to lift sanctions on Iran before a nuclear agreement with Tehran went into effect.
In August, Japan sent its State Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Daishiro Yamagiwa to Tehran with executives from major trading houses such as Mitsubishi Corp., Mitsui & Co. and Itochu, as well as plant-engineering giant JGC and major banks.
Tehran accounted for 10% of Japan’s oil imports before sanctions cut them to five percent. Japan wants to raise the purchases to the previous level.
“Given that Iran’s oil and natural gas reserves are one of the world’s biggest, there is a possibility that Iran will play a part if Japan seeks to diversify its supply sources,” Kyodo quoted a Japanese gas and oil industry source as saying Sunday.
Zamaninia said Japanese companies are interested in being re-engaged in the Iranian energy sector, especially in the gas sector, adding he thinks Japan’s current policy seems to be focusing less on crude oil.
With more than 34 trillion cubic meters under its belt, Iran owns the world’s largest natural gas reserves but its share of the global trade in gas is less than one percent.
According to an Iranian energy official, natural gas will be the main fuel in the next 20 to 30 years. Zamaninia said within two to three years, Iran will be a major supplier of gas to its neighbors.
Currently, Turkey is Iran’s biggest customer with 30 million cubic meters a day of imports under a 25-year deal signed before the West imposed sanctions on Tehran.
Iran seeks to raise gas production to 1.2 billion cubic meters (bcm) a day in five years, from 800 million cubic meters now. Annual output totals 166 bcm, which is mostly used at home.
The country exports 10 bcm of gas per year. To put it in perspective, Russia exports about 150 billion cubic meters of gas a year.
South Pars in southern Iran is the world’s largest gas field which the country is developing in two dozen phases.
It provides feedstock for a number of petrochemical complexes in an area known the Pars Special Economic Energy Zone (PSEEZ) in Assaluyeh on the Persian Gulf coast.
Yoichi Yamamoto, adviser in charge of the Middle East at the Japan External Trade Organization in Tokyo, says petrochemical products, rather than natural gas itself, might be more attractive for Japanese companies for now.
“To transport gas across the sea, it is necessary to convert gas into liquefied natural gas and use special tankers, resulting in relatively large investment,” he told Kyodo.
“If Japanese companies are to form joint ventures or invest funds in the PSEEZ, petrochemical products produced there would be attractive,” he said.
“They cannot sell all the products in Japan. If they could draw up a business model in which they will sell the products also to third-party countries, I think it would be possible for them to invest,” he added.
The scathing attack on Russian foreign policies in the Global Times newspaper on Sunday has no precedents. It goes way beyond the occasional sparring in a spirit of ‘glasnost’. Indeed, China-Russia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination (as it is officially described) is not at all like what it appears. (Read my article in Asia Times Russia-China entente – Lofty rhetoric, shifty discourse.)
The GT article marks a big departure from past Chinese criticism. A note of outright condemnation is appearing. The fundamentals of Russian foreign policies and diplomacy have been called into question.
There are pointed allegations that Russia undermine China’s core interests and seeks to extract “strategic room” out of China’s tensions with the US and Japan.
Russia is presented here as a mirror image of the US – harbouring hegemonic ambitions and imposing its own version of ‘colour revolutions’ in a drive to dominate Eurasia, Eurasian Economic Union and the SCO.
The article makes a hard-hitting reference to the tortuous history of the relations between the two countries to hark back to the vast Chinese territories that are still in Russian possession.
Of course, from the Indian perspective, the article makes a stunning allegation that Russia eyes India as a counterweight to China in terms of a containment strategy:
- Russia is also aiming at its own containment of China by using India, a key force in Russia’s eyes. Fostering another regional power to offset China’s growing influence is what both Russia and the US desire. India’s ambition to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which was foiled by some countries including China, was backed by both Russia and the US.
Evidently, at a time when tensions are rising in China-India relations, Russia’s pro-Indian leaning rankles in the Chinese mind. What explains this level of rancorous indignation?
To my mind, the principal reason could be that Beijing is displeased with Moscow’s unhelpful stance apropos the Permanent Arbitration Tribunal’s recent award on the South China Sea.
We know that just hours before the award was announced at The Hague on July 12, Minister Plenipotentiary (holding ambassadorial rank) of the Chinese Embassy in Moscow Zhang Ziao had called on Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov. The Russian readout merely said the two diplomats discussed “current bilateral and global issues”.
But it stands to reason that the Chinese diplomat conveyed Beijing’s expectations of Russian support apropos the forthcoming South China Sea award. However, for two full days, Moscow kept mum. Probably, the Chinese demarche went up all the way to the Kremlin for instructions.
At any rate, when the Russian reaction came, finally, it was not as a formal statement but instead in the Q&A following a press briefing on July 14 by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakhavrova. The following excerpts are important:
- Question: On July 12, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rendered a judgment on the jurisdiction of certain islands in China’s economic zone. What do you think about the decision, and what is Russia’s attitude towards China’s policy in the South China Sea?
- Maria Zakharova: We would like to note the following in connection with the July 12 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague concerning the well-known lawsuit filed by the Philippines. It is our position that the states involved in territorial disputes in these seas should honour the principle of the non-use of force, and that they should continue to search for a diplomatic settlement based on international law, mainly the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. They should act in accordance with the spirit of ASEAN and PRC documents, specifically, the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the guidelines for following the declaration that were coordinated in 2011.
- We support ASEAN and PRC efforts to draft a code of conduct in the South China Sea. I will remind you that Russia is not involved in territorial disputes in that region, and that it has no intention of getting involved. We consider it a matter of principle not to side with any party. We believe that the concerned parties should conduct negotiations in a format they define. We also believe attempts to interfere in a resolution of territorial issues in the South China Sea by external parties to be counter-productive. We support the role of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in ensuring the rule of law during activities in the world’s oceans. Moreover, it is important that the provisions of this universal international treaty be applied consistently and in a way that will not jeopardise the integrity of the legal system stipulated by the convention.
Clearly, the remarks not only fell far short of an articulation of support for China, but rather clinically distanced Moscow from identifying with Beijing’s position. Furthermore, it underscored thrice the centrality of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The China-Russia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination failed to pass the litmus test here. If the “forever” partnership expected the two big powers to be supportive of each other’s core interests, when the time came for Moscow to stand up and be counted as China’s friend, it scooted. The Chinese bitterness shows.
Beijing understands the Russian game plan to ingratiate itself into favour with the West. A possible rapprochement between the US and Russia, which the Kremlin is desperately seeking before President Barack Obama leaves office, creates uneasiness in the Chinese mind.
Meanwhile, Beijing’s comfort level on the South China Sea situation as such has significantly risen. The Chinese diplomacy has rather successfully weathered a potentially ugly situation stemming from the July 12 award. The summit meetings of the ASEM and ASEAN in successive weeks refrained from criticising China.
Most important, the US is tamping down tensions. National Security Advisor Susan Rice is currently in Beijing. Obama hopes for some substantial takeaway from his meeting with President Xi Jinping in September during the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China, which will be his last encounter with the Chinese leader.
Moscow may have miscalculated the geopolitical fallout of the July 12 award. The GT article is a stark reminder to the Russian side that its need of China is greater than the other way around. The article is here.