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North Korea Calls US-Japan Missile Drills Provocation Against Intra-Korean Dialogue

Sputnik – 22.02.2018

MOSCOW – North Korea’s committee on Korean reconciliation condemned on Thursday an upcoming joint US-Japan missile defense drill as an attempt to reignite regional tensions and obstruct the ongoing thaw between Pyongyang and Seoul.

“Branding this as a ferocious gangster-like act aimed to tarnish the hard-won atmosphere for the improvement of the North-South ties and for peace on the Korean Peninsula, and as a dangerous military provocation to ignite the train of a war,” the [North’s] Korean National Peace Committee said in a statement, announced by state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and quoted by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

The statement was made after on February 15, the Japanese Defense Ministry announced that this year’s joint ballistic missile defense exercise, which is due to start on Friday and last for a week, would have a larger scale than the previous ones and involve not only the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force and the US Navy but also the two countries’ air force units and the US Marine Corps. The ministry stressed the importance of the drill, citing November’s North Korean ballistic missile activities.

The committee also noted “greater bellicosity” and the danger of the forthcoming exercise, pointing to the planned involvement of fighter jets and US marines.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have further escalated as North Korea achieved significant progress in its nuclear and missile programs last year. Pyongyang tested several ballistic missiles, including its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile in November, which it said was capable of hitting any part of the mainland of the United States. In turn, Washington has led a number of diplomatic initiatives to put pressure on Pyongyang and held several drills in the region.

In January, Pyongyang and Seoul resumed bilateral talks ahead of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. As a result, their national teams marched together under a “unification flag” at the opening ceremony and are jointly participating in a number of sporting events.

The sides also reportedly agreed to delay their military activities until after the Olympics, which will last through Sunday.

February 23, 2018 Posted by | Militarism | , , | Leave a comment

Seoul won’t rush to renew joint military drills with US as new intra-Korean summit solidifies

RT | February 10, 2018

South Korean President Moon Jae-in reportedly rejected a call from Japan to quickly resume joint US-Korean military drills. Moon has been invited to visit Pyongyang for what may become the first top-level summit in over a decade.

At a bilateral summit on Friday, Moon called on the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to wait before resuming the drills, Yonhap reported, citing a government official. The drills have been paused for the duration of the Winter Olympics, as part of Seoul’s attempt to mend relations with Pyongyang. North Korea considers the drills a major threat to its national security, saying they may be used to conceal a build-up for an invasion.

According to the report, Abe argued that the time to delay exercises scheduled for spring was not right and that Pyongyang had to change its behavior before receiving concessions.

“I understand what Prime Minister Abe said is not to delay South Korea-U.S. military drills until there is progress in the denuclearization of North Korea. But the issue is about our sovereignty and intervention in our domestic affairs,” Moon told the Japanese leader, according to the unnamed official. “The president said it was not appropriate for the prime minister to directly mention the issue.”

North Korea’s successful development last year of a ballistic missile, which is apparently capable of reaching the US mainland, as well as carrying a small thermonuclear device, triggered a major security crisis on the Korean Peninsula. As US President Donald Trump threatened to use military force to destroy Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities, a new left-wing government in Seoul took several symbolic steps to deflate the tension, including agreeing to have a joint athletic delegation with North Korea at the Olympics.

This week, Moon received an invitation from his northern counterpart, Kim Jong-un to visit Pyongyang for a top-level summit. If accepted, it would be the first diplomatic event of its kind since 2007, when the government of President Roh Moo-hyun in Seoul attempted to mend relations as part of the Sunshine Policy.

Roh’s successor, Lee Myung-bak, came from the other side of the political spectrum and took a hardline stance on intra-Korean relations, as did President Park Geun-hye, who came from the same conservative camp. After Park was impeached, Moon was elected partially on the promise of reviving the Sunshine Policy.

February 10, 2018 Posted by | Militarism | , , , | 1 Comment

Russia to deploy warplanes on Kuriles

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | February 3, 2018

A one-line decree signed by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on 30th January merely assigned a dual civilian-military role to the newly operational airport on the island of Iturop in the disputed Kurile chain. But its strategic content is unmistakable – Moscow is taking a big step forward in the militarization of the Kuriles by deploying warplanes, drones and command systems at the facility. The airport has a 2.3 milometer runway and can handle giant aircraft.

The Iturop island is one of four seized by Soviet forces in the final days of World War Two and is located off the north-east coast of Hokkaido, Japan’s biggest prefecture. The dispute over the islands (known as the Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan) has prevented the signing of a formal peace treaty between Russia and Japan to mark the end of the war.

Tokyo has lost no time to express concern over the Russian military deployment to Iturop. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, “We’ve conveyed through diplomatic channels that it goes against our country’s position. We’re gathering information on the Russian military’s behavior in the Northern Territories.”

Moscow’s decision can be seen in the context of the U.S.-built Aegis land-based missile defense system getting deployed in Japan. In December, Japanese government approved a record $46 billion defense budget and funds to survey potential sites for two Aegis ground interceptor batteries. A ship-based version of the Aegis system (made by Lockheed Martin) is already installed on Japanese warships. Japan is expected to deploy the Aegis Ashore system by 2023.

Moscow refused to accept the contention by Japan that the Aegis Ashore system is meant to defend against enemy missile attacks such as North Korean ballistic missiles. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on December 28,

  • The recent decision by the Japanese government to deploy US Aegis Ashore missile defence systems on its territory causes deep regret and serious concern. Whatever arguments and motives behind it, it is clear that the deployment of these systems is yet another step towards building a full-fledged Asian-Pacific regional segment of the global US missile defence system. It should be kept in mind that these systems are equipped with universal missile launchers capable of using strike weapons. In practice, it means another violation of the INF Treaty by the United States with Japan’s assistance.
  • We consider Japan’s step as going against the efforts to establish peace and stability in the region. In addition, these actions by Tokyo directly contradict the priority task of fostering trust between Russia and Japan in the military-political area and will affect the general atmosphere of bilateral relations, including talks on a peace treaty.

Last November, Russian President Vladimir Putin had publicly voiced the expectation that Japan should review its alliance with the US as a condition for a peace treaty. Medvedev’s decree on January 30 is a snub to Japan, coming ahead of a scheduled meeting between the deputy foreign ministers of the two countries to discuss cooperation on the disputed territory of Kuriles. Russia seems to have given up hope since then that Japan can be encouraged to pursue independent foreign policies.

Meanwhile, the growing tensions over North Korea, the US military build-up in the Far East and the New Cold War between the US and Russia become added compulsions for Moscow to strengthen its defence lines in the Sakhalin Oblast. By the way, Moscow is also working on plans to create a new naval base in the region for submarines.

Clearly, under these circumstances, a Russo-Japanese peace treaty becomes an even more remote prospect. The ‘charm diplomacy’ by Japanese PM Shinzo Abe is not getting anywhere; Russia is not a pushover, as he’d have thought. This has serious implications for the power dynamic in East Asia in the near term, putting Japan at a disadvantage in the Russia-China-Japan triangular diplomacy.

February 3, 2018 Posted by | Militarism | , , , | 1 Comment

Fake News: Russia and Sputnik Accused of Meddling in Malaysian Elections

By Ivan Danilov | Sputnik | January 24, 2018

In its latest “Asia insight” feature, Japanese news agency Nikkei speculates that Russia is “meddling” in Malaysia and other Asian countries with alleged “authoritarian streaks”.

It seems that the fake news epidemic that struck Western media during the US presidential elections and the Brexit vote has spread to Japan. Nikkei cites two instances when Russia allegedly “filled the void” left by the Western powers, which chose to reduce their engagement with countries plagued by “creeping authoritarianism”: Malaysia and Cambodia. It is curious that in Malaysia’s case, the Japanese journalists claim that Sputnik’s cooperation with the local media is basically proof of Russian meddling, hinting that Moscow is seeking to influence Malaysian internal and economic affairs.

All accusations are based on a twisted interpretation of a single diplomatic visit by a Russian deputy minister. According to Nikkei, “there are hints of Russian meddling in Malaysia, where the election is scheduled by August. Last month, the Russian deputy minister of telecom and mass communications, Alexey Volin, visited Kuala Lumpur to discuss cooperation between Sputnik, a Russian government-backed media company, and Malaysian player Bernama.”

It would be nice to know how exchanging articles and stories between two news agencies can amount to meddling, but the Nikkei analysts failed to provide any details on their accusations, only mentioning that the FBI is investigating Sputnik in order to determine whether “the Russian government’s involvement in journalism violates U.S. laws.” By the same token, the journalists crying foul over Sputnik’s alleged meddling in Malaysia should be deeply concerned by the fact that Sputnik also cooperates with one of the biggest Japanese media corporations, Kyodo News.

Sadly, it wouldn’t be surprising if Sputnik’s partners in Japan or other countries will soon be criticized as agents of Russian influence. Facts don’t matter anymore; the era of fake news is upon us. It used to be that gaining access to new sources of information was viewed as a positive development, but some Japanese journalists seem to believe that Malaysians shouldn’t have access to Sputnik’s news coverage.

Unsurprisingly, Nikkei found another country subjected to Russian influence: Cambodia, citing the presence of Russian election observers as proof. According to the Nikkei article, “Putin seems to find kindred spirits in so-called illiberal democracies”, and that is the reason for Russia’s decision to send election observers and set up a working group to negotiate the issue of Cambodian debt, left over from the Soviet days.

It is also alleged that “that China and Russia do not foist demands for human rights and democracy on their partners, making them appealing benefactors for regional leaders intent on staying in power,” while cooperation with Western countries is conditional upon maintaining a functional democracy and respect for human rights. Obviously, this is false, given the West’s extensive history of cooperation with regimes characterized by blatant disregard for basic human rights. For instance, the US openly supported the Pinochet regime in Chile after the 1973 coup, despite the fact that Chilean authorities routinely executed their political opponents. A Chilean commission investigating human rights abuses concluded that over three thousand Chileans were killed or “forcibly disappeared” under Pinochet, while the total number of recognized victims of this staunch US ally is above forty thousand. President Franklin D. Roosevelt supported the Nicaraguan leader Anastasio Somoza, who had a well-deserved reputation as a brutal dictator.

Western governments have supported numerous autocratic regimes across Africa, South America and the Middle East, and continue to support undemocratic countries to this day and therefore no American or Western apologist can claim they have a moral high ground on this issue. To say that the West cares about human rights is hypocritical. Pretending that “authoritarian streaks” are the reason why countries like Cambodia or Malaysia seek to cooperate with Russia or China is disingenuous. The logical explanation is that Russia and China offer better deals and refrain from imposing a political or ideological agenda on their partners.

The authors of the hit-piece, published by Nikkei, seem to be under the impression that economic cooperation in South-East Asia is a zero-sum gain in which a Russian or Chinese gain can only come at the expense of Japanese or American interests. It doesn’t have to be this way. Accusing Russia and its media outlets, like Sputnik, of political interference is counterproductive, and may also be interpreted as a sign of petty jealousy of Russia’s diplomatic prowess.Searching for win-win solutions that would allow everyone to benefit from multilateral economic cooperation is a better way forward. Economic cooperation without political strings attached is a prerequisite for peaceful coexistence between countries that share a complicated history and may have different opinions on a wide range of geopolitical issues. Giving up spreading fake news would be a welcome first step in this direction.

January 24, 2018 Posted by | Russophobia | , | 1 Comment

US missile systems in Japan may have offensive purpose & be controlled by Washington – Moscow

RT | January 15, 2018

The US-made Aegis missile-defense system deployed in Japan could be used for offensive purposes and fall under full control of Washington, the Russian foreign minister warns.

The deployment of the American Aegis Combat System, designed to provide defense against short to intermediate-range ballistic missiles, casts a shadow over Russia-Japan relations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during his annual Q&A on Monday. Moscow has serious concerns over its purpose and who will be behind the operational control of the missile system in Japan. Despite Tokyo’s assertions, Moscow remains unconvinced.

“We have data that the system that will be deployed in Japan is based on universal launchers, which can use assault weapons,” the foreign minister stated. He added that Washington has never given control over its weapons to the country of deployment and this time will be no exception.

“We have heard that it will be Japan that will allegedly operate this system, and the United States will have nothing to do with it, but we have serious doubts that it is so.”

The statement comes on the heels of a report, which states that the stationing of the Aegis system is allegedly aimed at curbing Russia and is intended as a deterrent against its nuclear missiles, Japanese media say, citing an unnamed official.

Last month, Tokyo decided to boost its ballistic missile defense system and approved the purchase and deployment of two Aegis Ashore batteries – expected to become operational by 2023 – at a cost of around $2 billion.

Moscow has repeatedly stressed that it is eager to engage in dialogue over the stationing of US missile defense systems overseas, to make sure they will not “become a serious destabilizer” of the international climate, according to Lavrov. Despite US claims that the weapons are not directed against Russia, Moscow has “plenty of evidence that all this is not so.”

January 15, 2018 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , | 1 Comment

Analyst Dismisses White House Claims Pyongyang Behind WannaCry

Sputnik – 20.12.2017

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Monday, White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert announced that North Korea is responsible for the May 2017 “WannaCry” global cyberattack that targeted Windows computers and was allegedly aided by leaked National Security Agency technology.

In the article titled, “It’s Official: North Korea Is Behind WannaCry,” Bossert points the finger at North Korea for being behind the cybercrime in which millions of users’ computer data was encrypted and then ransomed for bitcoins. The attack slowed down after a mistake in WannaCry’s code revealed a kill switch that prevented infected computers from spreading the virus.

“Cybersecurity isn’t easy, but simple principles still apply. Accountability is one, cooperation another,” Bossert wrote in his article. “They are the cornerstones of security and resilience in any society. In furtherance of both, and after careful investigation, the US today publicly attributes the massive ‘WannaCry’ cyber attack to North Korea.”

In a White House press briefing Tuesday morning, Bossert claimed that the US came to this conclusion after a “careful investigation.”

“We don’t do this lightly,” Bossert said during the briefing. “We do so with evidence and with partners,” adding that Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia and the United Kingdom all agree that North Korea is responsible.

“While victims received ransom demands, paying did not unlock their computers,” the homeland security adviser wrote. “It was cowardly, costly and careless. The attack was widespread and cost billions, and North Korea is directly responsible.”

On Radio Sputnik’s Loud & Clear, financial policy analyst Daniel Sankey asserted his belief that North Korea is not behind the cyberattack.

“I’m a little suspicious myself. The drums of war have been beaten against [North Korea] for some time now and it’s very convenient that now this severe cyberattack is being laid against the doors of North Korea,” Sankey told hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker.

“And of course, as usual, we can take the intelligence community’s word for it because they know better than us and they published it in the Wall Street Journal — so it must be North Korea,” he added sarcastically.

“I am a little skeptical because a big part of the virus was extorting various users to send bitcoin in exchange for access to their files again. In the end, they stole about $55,000 in bitcoin and that’s not enough money for North Korea to trouble itself with,” Sankey said.

“Also, what is North Korea going to do with bitcoin? They need commodities, they need cash, they need access to different markets. They don’t need bitcoin. How are they going to turn that into oil or coal or various other things they need? How are they going to convert that into a convertible currency? It’s really not feasible.”

Although Bossert said that the US did “not make the allegation lightly,” he didn’t provide any solid evidence and simply alluded to National Security Agency and Microsoft research. He also referred to the UK’s determination in October that North Korea was responsible for the attack.

In May, security firms discovered a link between the ransomware and southern China during an investigation of the code’s notes, which revealed that WannaCry’s creators were fluent in a form of Chinese very common in that region.

According to security firm Flashpoint, which conducted the analysis, “A typo in the note, “帮组” (bang zu) instead of “帮助” (bang zhu) meaning “help,” strongly indicates the note was written using a Chinese-language input system rather than being translated from a different version. More generally, the note makes use of proper grammar, punctuation, syntax, and character choice, indicating the writer was likely native or at least fluent.”

Although the linguistic analysis of the code did not reveal any Korean, the US has still confidently asserted that North Korea is responsible, and Sankey believes it’s because the underlying problem behind the attacks actually has nothing to do with the hackers but with intelligence communities, who may be actually be responsible for the crimes.

“I think that the real problem is that intelligence communities are becoming aware of vulnerabilities in these systems, and rather than working with the private sector to protect consumers and peoples’ data, they are just sitting on those vulnerabilities so that they can use them later to hack systems.”

In his editorial, Bossert concludes, “Mr. Trump has already pulled many levers of pressure to address North Korea’s unacceptable nuclear and missile developments, and we will continue to use out maximum pressure strategy to curb Pyongyang’s ability to mount attacks, cyber or otherwise.”

With the Trump administration’s increased use of aggressive language against North Korea’s continued nuclear weapon tests and with this new allegation that the country is responsible for WannaCry, it doesn’t appear that the relationship between the two is going to be getting better anytime soon.

December 20, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why Belt and Road rules need makeover

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | December 6, 2017

Over the past 24 hours, the narrative by India’s self-styled “China watchers” regarding the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been shown to be quixotic. The Pakistani media has carried speculative reports that China is holding up the funding for certain road projects coming within the orbit of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) due to a revision of financial rules.

So, the BRI, after all, is not a devious geopolitical strategy but is also about money. And money doesn’t grow on trees – even yuan. Clearly, BRI is expected to be cost-effective and self-financing. And it is not about investing in unsustainable projects in basket economies with an ulterior agenda to surreptitiously acquire ‘equity’ or to entice those moth-eaten countries into a “debt trap” that eventually forces them to pawn their national sovereignty to the pawn broker in Beijing – which is what our China watchers have been propagating.

Indeed, trust the Chinese to put money only where the mouth is. The BRI is, after all, far more profound than a theatrical imperialist adventure in foreign lands. It’s about money, creation of wealth, primarily. Read up China’s current history to understand that China’s priority has never been any different.

For sure, China has excess industrial capacity and needs to export. But as with any complex architecture, it is impossible to distinguish one thread in the BRI matrix as pre-eminent. If at al, the core element of BRI is about galvanizing the “backward” regions of China. It doesn’t need explanation that China’s economic miracle has created regional imbalances in development.

In a bold statement at the party congress, Xi Jinping pledged to remove poverty from the face of China by 2020, which means lifting 70 million people above poverty line. The CPEC focuses on the development of Xinjiang (spanning a mind-boggling landmass of 1.6 million square kilometers endowed with vast mineral resources but sparsely populated.) China has been encouraging foreign investment in that region. With greater connectivity and market access, Xinjiang can be yet another locomotive of growth for the Chinese economy. Equally, the CPEC is also about creating an access route to the world market that is far more economical than the sea route.

Meanwhile, the CPEC’s second phase is about to begin, which concerns the setting up of special economic zones along the newly-laid infrastructural grid. Again, trust the Chinese to make investments that guarantee returns. That is one thing. China is open to inviting partners from third countries. Pakistan is also an increasingly attractive investment destination for western countries. General Electric is showing interest in power projects in the CPEC.

Make no mistake that Pakistan too is eager to attract US investments. During an animated discussion yesterday at the Carnegie in Washington, Pakistan’s ambassador Aitzaz Ahmad Chaudhry highlighted this aspect. He said:

  • Pakistan’s relationship with China is not at the expense of its relations with the US.
  • The US still remains Pakistan’s single most important country. It stood by Pakistan for 6 decades and is perceived as a highly benevolent country.
  • The US involvement in CPEC not only brings in technology but will also “balance out” Pakistan’s relations with China.

On the other hand, China too hopes to make the BRI a template of its relations with western countries. The Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang held a brain storming session with 250 top Japanese business executives two weeks ago in Beijing to flesh out ideas. Japan anticipates the Chinese motivations, which explains the plan it has drawn up to support participation by Japanese companies and funding for BRI projects.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made a dramatic announcement on this in Tokyo on Monday at a 2-day gathering of Japanese and Chinese business executives. “Meeting robust infrastructure demand in Asia through cooperation between Japan and China will contribute greatly to the prosperity of Asian people, in addition to the economic development of the two countries,” Abe said. He added that he hoped that Xi will visit Japan “as early as possible.” (Straits Times, South China Morning Post )

Clearly, time is not far off when China becomes the “co-investor” – rather than sole investor – in BRI projects. Therefore, China will continuously upgrade the BRI concept and its rules and regulations with a view to ensure conformity with high western standards. If the Pakistani reports are accurate, a major revision of the financial rules of CPEC projects is already going on.

China takes immense pride in the BRI. It is enshrined in China’s constitution now. The bottom line is that BRI enhances China’ stature as the flag-carrier of globalization. China hopes to create a new supply chain where its standards get global acceptability. Which means that the BRI needs to be transparent and accountable and is on par with (or even excel) western financial and banking norms and business practices.

Time is running out for our pundits who spite the BRI out of Sinophobia and keep making apocalyptic predictions. But the tragedy is that they have done immense damage to India’s interests already by propagating falsehoods and prejudices. The BRI could have been — and should have been — a template of PM Modi’s development agenda. The residual hope now will be: “When Abe goes, can Modi be far behind?”

December 6, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

Okinawa files new lawsuit to block relocation of US Marines base – local media

RT | July 24, 2017

The Japanese prefecture of Okinawa filed a new lawsuit against the government demanding a halt to construction work for the relocation of the US Futenma base, local media report. The relocation has been the target of protests among locals.

The prefectural authorities say that Tokyo is acting illegally without permission from the Okinawa governor, as seen in a copy of the lawsuit sent on Monday and obtained by the Okinawa Times.

The relocation of the base involves damaging seabed rock, which would harm the fishing grounds, the lawsuit states.
Earlier in July, an Okinawa Prefectural Assembly committee asked for legal action against damage to the fishing grounds caused by the relocation.

“The granting of fishing rights is considered a local government matter and it’s the prefecture that determines how to interpret those local government matters,” Kiichiro Jahana, the head of the executive office of the governor, told the assembly.

The US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station is going to be moved from the densely populated city of Ginowan to the less populated city of Nago in the Henoko coastal area. The city is already home to Camp Schwab, another US Marines camp which has caused numerous protests among the local population.

The base relocation has been repeatedly halted due to resistance from the Okinawa authorities and local residents.

Japanese authorities began the relocation of the base back in February this year, despite stiff opposition from the population. Local residents regularly stage protests with thousands of people, often resulting in confrontation with police.

According to the relocation plan, the flight functions of the Futenma airfield will be transferred to Camp Schwab. Tokyo also plans to reclaim around 157 hectares of land in Henoko waters and build a V-shaped runway.

Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga is among those who stand firmly opposed to the US military presence on the archipelago, calling for the removal of the Futenma base.

Onaga says that the relocation would destroy the environment of the bay surrounding the new base site.

Around 100,000 US military personnel are currently stationed in Japan, according to the official website of US Forces, Japan. Home to about one percent of Japan’s population, Okinawa hosts almost half of the troops (47,000), according to media reports.

Read more:

Japan ignores protests, begins offshore construction work on moving US base in Okinawa

July 24, 2017 Posted by | Environmentalism, Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , , | Leave a comment

QE, the largest transfer of wealth in history

By Dan Glazebrook | RT | July 22, 2017

It appears that the massive, almost decade-long transfer of wealth to the rich known as ‘quantitative easing’ is coming to an end.

Of the world’s four major central banks – the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan – two have already ended their policy of buying up financial assets (the Fed and the BoE), and the ECB plans to stop doing so in December. Indeed, the Fed is expected to start selling off the $3.5 trillion of assets it purchased during three rounds of QE within the next two months.

Given that – judged by its official aims – QE has been a total failure, this makes perfect sense. By ‘injecting’ money into the economy, QE was supposed to get banks lending again, boosting investment and driving up economic growth. But overall bank lending in fact fell following the introduction of QE in the UK, whilst lending to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) – responsible for 60 percent of employment – plummeted.

As Laith Khalaf, a senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, has noted: “Central banks have flooded the global economy with cheap money since the financial crisis, yet global growth is still in the doldrums, particularly in Europe and Japan, which have both seen colossal stimulus packages thrown at the problem.”

Even Forbes admits that QE has “largely failed in reviving economic growth”.

This is, or should be, unsurprising. QE was always bound to fail in terms of its stated aims, because the reason banks were not funneling money into productive investment was not because they were short of cash – on the contrary, by 2013, well before the final rounds of QE, UK corporations were sitting on almost £1/2trillion of cash reserves – but rather because the global economy was (and is) in a deep overproduction crisis. Put simply, markets were (and are) glutted and there is no point investing in glutted markets.

This meant that the new money created by QE and ‘injected’ into financial institutions – such as pension funds and insurance companies – was not invested into productive industry, but rather went into stock markets and real estate, driving up prices of shares and houses, but generating nothing in terms of real wealth or employment.

Holders of assets such as stocks and houses, therefore, have done very well out of QE, which has increased the wealth of the richest 5 percent of the UK population by an average of £128,000 per head.

How can this be? Where does this additional wealth come from? After all, while money – contrary to Tory sloganeering – can indeed be created ‘out of thin air’, which is precisely what QE has done, real wealth cannot. And QE has not produced any real wealth. Yet the richest 5 percent now have an extra £128,000 to spend on yachts, mansions, diamonds, caviar and so on. So where has it come from?

The answer is simple. The wealth which QE has passed to asset-holders has come, first of all, directly out of workers’ wages. QE, by effectively devaluing the currency, has reduced the buying power of money, leading to an effective decrease in real wages, which, in the UK, still remain 6 percent below their pre-QE levels. The money taken out of workers’ wages therefore forms part of that £128,000 dividend. But it has also come from new entrants to the markets inflated by QE – primarily, first time buyers and those just reaching pension age.

Those buying a house (which QE has made more expensive), for example, will likely have to work thousands of additional hours over the course of their mortgage in order to pay this increased cost. It is those extra hours that are creating the wealth which subsidizes the spending spree for the richest 5 percent. Of course, these increased house prices are paid by anyone purchasing a house, not only first time buyers – but the additional cost for existing homeowners is compensated for by the rise in price of their existing house (or by their shares for those wealthy enough to hold them).

QE also means that newly retiring pensioners are forced to subsidize the 5 percent. New retirees use their pension pot to purchase an ‘annuity’ – a bundle of stocks and shares generating dividends which serve as an income. However, as QE has inflated share prices, the number of shares they can buy with this pot is reduced. And, as share price increases do not increase dividends, this means reduced pension payments.

In truth, the story that QE was about encouraging investment and boosting employment and growth was always a fantastical yarn designed to disguise what was really going on – a massive transfer of wealth to the rich.

As economist Dhaval Joshi put it in 2011: “The shocking thing is, two years into an ostensible recovery, [UK] workers are actually earning less than at the depth of the recession. Real wages and salaries have fallen by £4bn. Profits are up by £11bn. The spoils of the recovery have been shared in the most unequal of ways.”

In March this year, the Financial Times noted that while Britain’s GDP had recovered to pre-crisis levels by 2014, real wages were still 10 percent lower than they had been in 2008. “The contraction of UK real wages was reversed in 2015,” they added, “but it is not going to last”. They were right. The same month the article was published, real wages began to fall again, and have been doing so ever since.

It is the same story in Japan, where, notes Forbes, “household income actually contracted since the implementation of QE”.

QE has had a similar effect on the global South: enriching the holders of assets at the expense of the ‘asset-poor’. Just as the influx of new money created bubbles in the housing and stock markets, it also created commodity price bubbles as speculators rushed to buy up stocks of, for example, oil and food. For some oil producing countries this has had a positive effect, providing them a windfall of cash to spend on social programs, as was initially the case in, for example, Venezuela, Libya and Iran. In all three cases, the empire has had to resort to various levels of militarism to counter these unintended consequences. But oil price hikes are, of course, detrimental to non-oil-producing countries – and food price hikes are always devastating.

In 2011, the UK’s Daily Telegraph highlighted “the correlation between the prices of food and the Fed’s purchase of US Treasuries (i.e. its quantitative easing programs)… We see how the food price index broadly stabilized through late 2009 and early 2010, then rose again from mid-2010 as quantitative easing was re-started … with prices rising about 40 percent over an eight month period.”

These price hikes pushed 44 million people into poverty in 2010 alone – leading, argued the Telegraph, to the unrest behind the so-called Arab Spring. Former World Bank president Robert Zoellick commented at the time that: “Food price inflation is the biggest threat today to the world’s poor… one weather event and you start to push people over the edge.”

Such are the costs of quantitative easing.

The BRICS economies were also critical of QE for another reason: they saw it as an underhand method of competitive currency devaluation. By reducing the value of their own currencies, the ‘imperial triad’ of the US, Europe and Japan were effectively causing everyone else’s currencies to appreciate, thereby damaging their exports. Forbes wrote in 2015, “The effects are already being felt in the most dynamic exporter in the world, the East Asian economies. Their exports in US dollar terms moved dramatically from 10 percent year-on-year growth to a contraction of 12 percent in the first half of this year; and the results are the same whether China is excluded or not.”

The main benefit of QE to the developing world is supposed to have been the huge inflows of capital it triggered. It has been estimated that around 40 percent of the money generated by the Fed’s first QE credit expansion (‘QE1’) went abroad – mostly to the so-called ‘emerging markets’ of the global South – and around one third from QE2. However, this is not necessarily the great boon it seems. Much of the money went, as we have seen, into buying up commodity stocks (making basic items such as food unaffordable for the poor) rather than investing in new production, and much also went into buying up stocks of currency, again causing an export-damaging appreciation. Worse than this, an influx of so-called ‘hot money’ (footloose speculative capital, as opposed to long term investment capital) makes currencies particularly volatile and vulnerable to, for example, rises in interest rates abroad.

Should interest rates rise again in the US and Europe, for example, this is likely to trigger a mass exodus of capital from the emerging markets, potentially prefiguring a currency collapse. Indeed, it was an influx of ‘hot money’ into Asian currency markets very similar to that seen during QE which preceded the Asian currency crisis of 1997.

It is precisely this vulnerability which is likely to be tested – if not outright exploited – by the coming end of QE and accompanying rise of interest rates.

Dan Glazebrook is a freelance political writer who has written for RT, Counterpunch, Z magazine, the Morning Star, the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Independent and Middle East Eye, amongst others. His first book “Divide and Ruin: The West’s Imperial Strategy in an Age of Crisis” was published by Liberation Media in October 2013. It featured a collection of articles written from 2009 onwards examining the links between economic collapse, the rise of the BRICS, war on Libya and Syria and ‘austerity’. He is currently researching a book on US-British use of sectarian death squads against independent states and movements from Northern Ireland and Central America in the 1970s and 80s to the Middle East and Africa today.

July 22, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Economics | , , , | Leave a comment

Whither Japan’s democracy?

By Daniel Hurst | Asia Times | June 27, 2017

To some observers, protester Hiroji Yamashiro, 65, has become a symbol of modern Japan’s uneasy attitude towards dissent.

The retired civil servant, a long-standing campaigner against the US military presence in the southern prefecture of Okinawa, was detained for five months from October last year before he was released on bail in March.

Yamashiro admitted cutting a barbed wire fence, but pleaded not guilty to subsequent charges of injuring a defense official and obstructing relocation work by placing blocks in front of a gate.

According to his supporters, Yamashiro is a tireless peace advocate whose continued detention was disproportionate to his alleged behavior.

To the authorities who arrested him, his actions went beyond those of peaceful protest and transgressed criminal laws.

Hiroji Yamashiro, 65, a campaigner against the US military presence in Okinawa prefecture, addresses the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. Photo: Daniel Hurst

Either way, his yet-to-be-finalized case has attracted so much international attention that he was invited to travel to Geneva earlier this month to address the UN Human Rights Council.

Now Yamashiro is seeking to shine a spotlight on Japan’s new anti-conspiracy law, which according to human rights groups and lawyers risks increased government surveillance and arbitrary arrest.

“The fact that a country like Japan has passed such a terrible law indicates the extent to which democracy is in retreat in this country,” the head of the Okinawa Peace Movement Center said during a press conference in Tokyo late last week.

“It’s something that I feel very sad about and very angry about and I would like the international community to focus upon it.”

Terror justification

Japan’s postwar constitution guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, assembly, association, speech, press “and all other forms of expression” – yet critics say they see a gradual erosion of those rights.

Such concerns grew when Japan’s ruling bloc pushed the anti-conspiracy bill through the upper house in mid-June.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his government argued the legislation would help prevent terrorism ahead of large-scale events like the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The law targets two or more persons who, “as part of activities of terrorist groups or other organized criminal groups,” plan to carry out certain criminal acts.

The 277 crimes covered by the law also include planning to steal forestry products or to breach copyright. Jail terms of up to five years are possible depending on the crime.

When a UN special rapporteur warned Japan’s government in an open letter that the vague legislation could usher in “undue restrictions” on freedom of expression and privacy, the authorities reacted angrily.

The criticism was called “one-sided” and “obviously inappropriate,” with government officials saying they had not been given a chance to provide information before the letter was published.

Abe, whose popularity has slipped in recent opinion polls, moved to assure the country that “ordinary people” would not face investigation.

“Although we feel [the law] is essential for strengthening international coordination in dealing with terrorism, we’re aware that some members of the public remain uneasy and concerned about it,” the prime minister said at a press conference last week.

International backlash

The UN special rapporteur for privacy, Professor Joseph Cannataci, highlighted the vague definition of planning and preparatory actions and the “over-broad range of crimes” covered.

He told Asia Times he had felt compelled to write the open letter because of the extremely short legislative deadline that the government had set itself.

Cannataci, an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, described the official response as “disappointing but not surprising.” He said he was “the third UN special rapporteur in a row whom the Japanese government has decided to be confrontational with.”

“I stand by every single word, full-stop and comma in my letter of the 18th May,” Cannataci said in an email this week.

“If anything, the way the Japanese government has behaved in response to my letter has convinced me even further of the validity of its content and the appropriateness of its timing and form.”

He added: “There has been a deafening silence on the part of the Abe government on the privacy safeguards which I have alleged are missing in Japanese law and the Japanese government has failed to explain, in public or in private, how the new law provides new remedies for privacy protection in a situation where it creates the legal basis where more surveillance could be carried out.”

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said last month: “It is not at all the case that the legislation would be implemented arbitrarily so as to inappropriately restrict the right to privacy and freedom of speech.”

‘Chilling effect’

Cannataci’s concerns are shared by a number of non-government organizations.

Hiroka Shoji, an East Asia researcher at Amnesty International, said the definition of an organized crime group was not limited to terrorist cells.

“Civil society organizations working on areas around national security can be subjected to this category,” Shoji said in an email.

Kazuko Ito, secretary general of the advocacy group Human Rights Now, said in an email: “Even if the judiciary narrowly determine and exonerate the targeted people in the end of the day, they are already targeted for arbitrary surveillance, wiretapping, arrest or detention – these are enough to smash civil society activities and will cause a significant chilling effect.”

Justice minister, Katsutoshi Kaneda, denies that the legislation is vague, arguing it is “expressly limited to organized criminal groups, the applicable crimes are listed and clearly defined and it applies only once actual preparatory actions have taken place.”

Anti-base protester Yamashiro, who was charged under pre-existing laws, views the new legislation as “a great threat”.

“I was arrested for obstruction of a public official, but under the new legislation even if you don’t do what it is that is against the law – if you’re just planning it or discussing it with other people – that is enough basis for an arrest to be made,” he said.

Press freedom concerns

The concerns come against a backdrop of claims that press freedom is deteriorating in Japan. The country declined in the global press freedom rankings issued by Reporters Without Borders, from 11th in 2010 to 72nd in the most recent review.

However, the reliability of that ranking is questioned by some observers.

The academic and consultant Michael Thomas Cucek, for example, has previously pointed to the “astonishing” volatility in Japan’s ranking and raised the possibility of the surveyed experts exaggerating the extent of repression in their own country.

Methodology questions aside, the UN special rapporteur for freedom of expression, David Kaye, has identified what he called “significant worrying signals” in Japan.

“The direct and indirect pressure of government officials over media, the limited space for debating some historical events and the increased restrictions on information access based on national security grounds require attention lest they undermine Japan’s democratic foundations,” Kaye wrote in a report published in May.

Kaye called for safeguards to be added to the state secrets law enacted in late 2013, which allows bureaucrats to be jailed for up to 10 years for revealing specially designated information.

Under Article 25 of the state secrets law, journalists could potentially face a prison term of up to five years under a provision targeting “a person who conspires with, induces or incites another person” to release such secrets.

However, the law offers protection to news reporting “as long as it has the sole aim of furthering the public interest and is not found to have been done in violation of laws or regulations or through the use of extremely unjustifiable means.”

The Japanese government has said it “does not intend to apply Article 25’s harsh penalties to journalists.” And in a broader rebuke to Kaye, it said most of his arguments were based on hearsay or assumptions.

“It is hard for the government of Japan to avoid expressing sincere regret concerning those biased recommendations,” the government said in a formal response.

It cited the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression and added that “there is no such fact that government of Japan officials and members of the Japanese ruling party have put pressure on journalists illegally and wrongfully.”

Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan, said officials were unlikely to act on previous comments by some lawmakers about the possibility of suspending broadcasting licenses for bias.

“But just making noises about doing so sends a chilling message, a shot across the bow of an already cowering media that may constrain coverage,” Kingston wrote in the book Press Freedom in Contemporary Japan, published earlier this year.

June 27, 2017 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , , | Leave a comment

Japan Regards Russia as a Reliable Hydrocarbons Exporter

By Dmitry Bokarev – New Eastern Outlook – 22.06.2017

As you must know, Japan does not have enough natural resources to ensure its energy security without turning to any foreign players. At the same time, its closest neighbor – Russia possesses impressive hydrocarbon reserves and can be in the list of major exporters of those. Nevertheless, it is difficult to describe the volume of bilateral trade between the two states as impressive, in fact it’s the exact opposite. But it seems that the Japanese government has finally come to grips with the fact that it is missing out on enjoying the benefits of Japan’s geographic location, so Tokyo decided to step up its attempts to pursue economic cooperation with Russia.

In fact, talks about Japan’s increasing imports of hydrocarbons from Russia have been circulating for a long time. There’s no doubt that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster which resulted in the closure of the majority of nuclear power plants across Japan has made Russia even more attractive as a trade partner for Tokyo.

It’s true that Japan imports Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG), on top of taking part in the development of Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 oil and gas fields, and taking part in the construction of a LNG plant within the framework of the Yamal-LNG project. However, the level of bilateral cooperation in that area is miles away from reaching its full potential. Mind you that Russia’s share in the entire volume of Japan’s LNG imports barely reaches 8%. To this date Tokyo has been importing most of the LNG that it buys from Australia, Indonesia and the Middle East, in spite of the mind boggling shipping costs.

This situation is taking a toll on Japan’s budget and there’s no guarantee that Japan could be sure that it would get what it has paid for, since distant sea shipping always goes hand-in-hand with certain risks. Also, it’s pretty much a gamble when you’re getting resources of strategic importance from a limited number of suppliers, as it makes you dangerously dependent on your partners. Even if good relations are maintained between countries, there is always a possibility of unforeseen complications that may hinder the vital supplies.

Japan’s JFE Holdings had to learn this lesson the hard way, in spite of the fact that this company ranks second among local steel producers. To maintain its production levels any company in the steel business needs a lot of fuel. The most commonly used fuel in the steel industry is coking coal, since it’s cheap and reliable. Back in 2016 JFE Holdings acquired a total 60 million tons of this mineral, with more than 70% of this amount purchased in Australia which has traditionally been among the major coal exporters to Southeast Asia. However, a natural disaster damaged the Australian railway network back in March 2017, which obstructed the deliveries that were meant for JFE Holdings, which forced it to turn to Canada, China and the United States. It goes without saying that it had to buy large shipments of coal at a disadvantageous price. After this unpleasant incident Japan has once again realized the need to expand the number of suppliers to reduce its dependency on Australia. In May 2017, JFE Holdings announced plans to diversify imports of coking coal. The company’s management stated that among candidates for future suppliers one can find Canada, Mozambique and Russia. It is noteworthy that these days the Russian Federation is developing new coal deposits in the Far East, not far from Japan.

However, Japan’s steel industry is hardly the only industry that requires large amounts of coal to function properly. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster resulted in Tokyo building a large number of coal-driven CHP plants. In the coming years, Japanese coal imports should increase significantly, and it would only be profitable for Japan to buy coal in Russia.

It should be recalled that as early as 2016 negotiations were held between Tokyo and Moscow about the former making investments in the development of Russia’s Far Eastern ports to ensure that they maintain high transportation levels. Japan wanted to import coal from Yakutia in large volumes thus it decided to sign a number of deals to ensure its energy security. However, the practical implementation of these plans is not going quite as as one would like. For example, the Japanese corporation Tosei Group, through a subsidiary in April 2016, became a resident of the Free Port of Vladivostok with a view to constructing a transshipment complex for coal worth 60 billion rubles. The project was to be financed by the Japanese side. Additionally, construction of a terminal, capable of receiving up to 20 million tons of coal per year, was scheduled for early 2017, but it never started. The beginning of the construction works was delayed for a year, and it can now be made even partially operational by 2020. Despite the delay, the project is likely to be implemented, because the incident with the disruption of supplies of Australian coal shows that Japan really needs diversification of imports.

In April 2017, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, that was attended by the Russian Energy Minister, Alexander Novak. It’s been reported that the parties were discussing such projects as the creation of the Sakhalin-Hokkaido gas pipeline, along with a maritime energy bridge for electricity transmission that could be constructed in the foreseeable future. Soon after this meeting, the Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko said that Japan is not satisfied with its dependence on gas and oil shipments from the Middle East, since the political instability of the region has been constantly threatening Japan’s energy security. That is why Japan is really interested in increasing supplies of Russian LNG.

In conclusion, one can note that in spite of the slow development of Russian-Japanese relations in the energy sector, the countries have a great future ahead of them. Japan has already begun rebuilding its nuclear power capabilities, but the demand for electricity overshadows any measure that Tokyo has put in play so far. That is why one can be convinced that the Russian-Japanese energy trade and cooperation will reach a new level.

June 22, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Leave a comment

Japan wants US parachute drills grounded amid Okinawa anger

RT | May 30, 2017

Japan is opposed to a two-day parachuting drill that the US plans to conduct near the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. Local residents have protested such drills in the past, and this would be the third in two months.

Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said the US military failed to notify the Japanese authorities seven days ahead of the exercise, as they are supposed to. In fact, Japan learned of the Americans’ plans from a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) filed with the aviation authorities, which is meant to keep civilian aircraft out of airspace where US military planes are flying during the exercise, NHK reported.

“We asked [the Americans] not to conduct the training and to delete the NOTAM. So far we have not received a response from the US site,” Inada told reporters on Tuesday after a cabinet meeting.

The parachuting exercises, which are planned for Wednesday and Thursday, would be conducted off the coast of the city of Uruma. Similar drills were conducted off the Kadena Airbase on the night of May 10 and on April 24.

The previous two drills sparked protest among Okinawans, who have not seen such exercises since 2011. After the second training, Deputy Okinawa Governor Moritake Tomikawa filed a protest with Japan’s Defense Ministry, expressing outrage and saying that such exercises cannot become routine.

Defense Minister Inada called the US move “regrettable,” saying the US should observe a 1996 bilateral agreement under which parachuting exercises should be conducted on the remote island of Iejima, off Okinawa’s main island, with the Kadena base used only as an exception.

“The United States did not offer sufficient explanation on why the exercise conducted (Wednesday) amounted to an exceptional case,” Inada said at a regular news conference. “It is extremely deplorable that it took place at Kadena Air Base without Japan and the United States able to share the same perception in advance,” she stressed.

The Kadena Airbase is one of several US military installations on Okinawa, a southern Japanese island that hosts some 70 percent of the US troops in Japan and is home to some 20,000 US service members, contractors, and their families.

During a parachuting drill in 1965, a trailer airdropped into a local village inadvertently landed on a schoolgirl, killing her.

The protest over the latest planned drill comes a day after Okinawa police arrested a US airman assigned to the Kadena base following a drunk hit-and-run. Staff Sergeant Miguel Angel Garza allegedly hit a car on Monday and fled the scene. The female driver of the second vehicle sustained minor injuries, Japanese authorities said.

May 30, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , | Leave a comment