Japan

Japan and U.S. Sign Trade Agreement

The U.S. on Monday signed two trade deals with Japan that are intended to alleviate the hardships American farmers have encountered since President Trump imposed tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports to certain countries. The first and third largest economies in the world signed the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement and U.S.-Japan Digital Trade Agreement, just days before U.S. trade negotiators are set to meet with senior officials from the globe’s second largest economy, China, in Washington on Thursday. The two somewhat restrained trade deals cut $7.2 billion worth of tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Shinsuke J. Sugiyama signed the agreements at a ceremony at the White House. “This is a huge victory for America’s farmers, ranchers and growers. And that’s very important to me,” Trump said in remarks at the signing ceremony. “From day one my administration has worked tirelessly to achieve a level playing field for the American worker.” American farmers bore the brunt of Trump’s decision to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement in 2017. One of the new deals does away with $4.3 billion in tariffs on American food products including wine, cheese, nuts, berries, and grains as well as $2.9 billion in tariffs on beef and pork products. The other agreement commits Japan and the U.S. to $40 billion worth of digital trade. Republican Senator from Iowa Chuck Grassley called the agreement great news for Iowa farmers and said the new deal “strengthens” the administration’s negotiating position with China, which has battled with the U.S. on trade since Trump took office. Nevertheless, the agreements keep U.S. tariffs on Japanese automobiles at 2.5 percent, in line with what Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Trump promised him, that tariffs on Japan-made cars would not be hiked up. The trade deficit between the U.S. and Japan was $58 billion last year, long a point of contention for Trump.

Japan’s emperor to step down in 200-year first

For the first time in more than 200 years, Japan’s emperor will abdicate Tuesday, putting his son on the Chrysanthemum Throne and ushering in a new era for the world’s oldest monarchy. In a set of solemn ceremonies, Emperor Akihito will hand over to his eldest son, 59-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, also kicking off the new imperial “Reiwa” era — meaning “beautiful harmony” — that will continue for the length of the new monarch’s reign. The historic abdication has resulted in an unprecedented 10-day holiday for the famously hard-working Japanese, as special days off to mark the new emperor combine with the traditional “Golden Week” celebrations in May. At precisely 5:00 pm local time (0800 GMT), the 85-year-old Akihito will formally step down in a 10-minute ceremony in the “Matsu-no-Ma” (“Room of Pine”), considered the most elegant hall in the sumptuous Imperial Palace. The ritual will be conducted in the presence of the imperial regalia — an ancient sword and jewel — considered crucial evidence of an emperor’s legitimacy. However, Naruhito will not become emperor of Japan until the stroke of midnight and he will “inherit” the regalia at a second ceremony Wednesday at 10:30 am before making his first official public remarks shortly afterwards. The popular Akihito stunned Japan when he announced in 2016 that he wanted to give up the Chrysanthemum Throne, citing his age and health problems — he has been treated for prostate cancer and has also undergone heart surgery. There have been abdications in Japan’s long imperial history, which has mythological origins and stretches back more than two millennia, but the last one was more than two centuries ago.

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Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: Dinner with Trump About North Korea, Trade ‘Very Constructive’

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, visiting New York on the occasion of the United Nations General Assembly meeting, told reporters on Sunday that his dinner with U.S. President Donald Trump that night was “very constructive” and ranged from sharing opinions about North Korea to securing mutually beneficial trade agreements. Trump made dinner with Abe his first appointment for the General Assembly week. The two heads of government share a close relationship; Abe was the first world leader to visit Trump personally following his election in 2016. On this occasion, Abe greeted Trump on the heels of an overwhelming election victory to remain the head of his right-leaning Liberal Democratic Party, ensuring that Abe will remain prime minister for the next three years. “We had a very constructive discussion on trade and investment between Japan and the United States,” Abe told reporters, according to the Japan Times. “We agreed to make the momentum created in the historic U.S.-North Korea summit in June even stronger and to continue to coordinate closely toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” He noted the two met for two-and-a-half hours and that Abe made advocating for the rights of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea a priority in negotiating with the communist rogue state. Abe added that Trump appeared caring and attentive in listening to his concerns. North Korea implemented a policy of kidnapping Japanese citizens in the 1970s, using them to train would-be spies on Japanese language and culture. North Korea denied the policy for decades until 2002, then claimed it had only abducted 13 Japanese nationals. Tokyo estimates that up to 800 missing Japanese citizens were abducted and remain in North Korea. Japan has played a key role in negotiations regarding North Korea. Trump met with Abe shortly before his scheduled meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which is expected to occur on Monday. Moon is also in New York for the U.N. General Assembly and makes his arrival shortly after his first-ever trip to Pyongyang. Upon returning from North Korea, Moon claimed that communist dictator Kim Jong-un had given him a personal message to deliver to Trump that he would not disclose publicly. Trump invited Abe to dinner and announced Sunday they would discuss “military and trade.” The two are reportedly scheduled to meet once again on Monday evening. On the issue of trade, the president said on Twitter that he hoped “to see more of a reciprocal relationship” with Japan, expressing hope “it will all work out!” Following the first dinner, Abe told reporters, “I will continue discussions on trade with him in our summit after economy minister Motegi and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer meeting,” according to Japan’s Asahi Shimbun. Abe did not elaborate on any specifics regarding discussions on trade. Abe arrived in New York emboldened by a significant electoral victory last week. He is set to become the first Japanese prime minister to serve for three terms, defeating a challenge within his own Party from fellow lawmaker Shigeru Ishiba. Abe is expected to use his comfortable position to negotiate trade and push for changes to Japan’s Constitution to allow the nation greater self-defense abilities. The post-World War II Constitution does not allow Japan to maintain a standing military, only “self-defense forces” that cannot be used preemptively. In light of growing threats from North Korea and its patron state, China, Abe has pushed for allowing Japan greater military leverage. “I will finally embark on constitutional revision, which has never been achieved in the 70 years since the end of the war, and start building a new nation as we look to the future,” Abe said last week after his re-election.

US OKs selling Japan missiles to shoot down North Korean missiles

The Trump administration has approved a $133.3 million missile defense sale to Japan to meet the escalating threat from North Korea — by shooting down the rogue nation’s own ballistic missiles. The State Department says Congress was notified Tuesday of the proposed sale of four missiles for the SM-3 Block IIA interceptor. A State Department official told Fox News that, “Also included are four Mk 29 missile canisters, and other technical, engineering and logistics support services.” The department said the sale would support the U.S. defense industry and underscore Trump’s commitment to improve the defense of allies threatened by North Korea. The system was jointly developed by Japan and the U.S. The missiles could be used at sea with Japan’s current Aegis-equipped destroyers and with the land-based Aegis system its Cabinet approved for purchase last month. That’s intended to bolster Japan’s current missile defense and perhaps curry favor with President Donald Trump who is eager for U.S. allies to buy more American military hardware. “If concluded, this proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security interests of the United States,” the State Department official told Fox News. “It will bolster the security of a major treaty ally that has been, and continues to be, a force for political stability and economic progress in the Asia-Pacific region. It will also improve (Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s) interoperability with U.S. missile defense systems, and increase the protection for U.S. installations in the region.”

Japan Suggests North Korea May Have Sarin Gas Missiles

Satellite photography reportedly shows that North Korea is preparing its Punggye-ri nuclear test site for another detonation, probably timed to coincide with celebrations of national founder Kim Il-sung’s 105th birthday this weekend. Reuters reports that North Korean officials told foreign journalists in Pyongyang to prepare for a “big and important event” on Thursday. This proved to be a considerable letdown when the journalists were merely conducted to the opening of a new street in the middle of Pyongyang, but it is always possible the North Koreans are playing coy with journalists. The report of activity at Punggye-ri comes from monitoring group 38 North, which said the site was “primed and ready” after detecting the movement of vehicles and personnel. The sort of activity they described seems consistent with preparation, rather than a frenzy of activity that would indicate an imminent detonation. 38 North analyst Joseph Bermudez, who has a good track record of predicting Pyongyang’s nuclear tests, told CNN the activity noted over the past six weeks is “suggestive of the final preparations of a test.” In particular, 38 North analysts thought the end of excavation and water pumping at the site were indicators that it could be put to use soon. Fox News cites South Korean officials saying they “saw no signs that North Korea was preparing any sort of provocative actions,” although they acknowledged that North Korea has demonstrated the ability to conduct missile tests with very little warning. Japan added another reason for concern, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a session of his parliament, “There is a possibility that North Korea already has a capability to deliver missiles with sarin as warheads.” Sarin is the nerve agent suspected of deployment in the chemical weapons attack in Syria last week. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam was allegedly killed with a different chemical weapon, VX, at the Kuala Lumpur airport in February. Interestingly, China’s Communist Party organ, the Global Times, published an editorial calling on North Korea to suspend its nuclear activities, coupled with a promise that China will “actively work to protect the security of a denuclearised North Korean nation and regime.” China has previously promoted a deal in which North Korea would suspend nuclear tests if the United States agreed to halt military drills with South Korea, but there was little interest in the deal from either side. In fact, the United States Air Force launched a surprise exercise of air power in Japan on Thursday, which was seen as a demonstration to North Korea of what the Air Force’s largest combat-ready wing can do on short notice. China is still advocating for a non-violent resolution to the North Korean nuclear situation. The Trump administration is talking about using unprecedented sanctions to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, potentially instituting what one official described to Reuters as “essentially a trade quarantine on North Korea.” The measures under consideration could include “an oil embargo, banning its airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese banks doing business with Pyongyang,” according to the officials who spoke to Reuters. Other possibilities include interdicting North Korean freighters, prohibiting the use of North Korean contract labor abroad, implementing a global ban on coal, or banning North Korea’s seafood exports. Some of these steps would not require U.N. approval, which means China would not be able to veto them. China has been remarkably tough in enforcing its own punitive ban on North Korean coal exports, but Trump administration officials worried Beijing might have gone as far as it’s willing to go. It is considered something of a gamble to menace Chinese interests with the secondary effects of tough sanction against North Korea and hope it inspires them to bring Pyongyang to heel, instead of alienating the Chinese. “China has always opposed the use of unilateral sanctions in international relations and is firmly opposed when such unilateral sanctions harm China’s interests,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a press briefing.

At Venus, a Japanese spacecraft is almost ready for big science

A Japanese spacecraft’s long-awaited Venus campaign is finally about to begin. Japan’s Akatsuki probe was originally supposed to arrive at Venus in December 2010, but an engine failure caused the spacecraft to miss its target and zoom off into orbit around the sun. But this past December, Akatsuki’s handlers managed to guide the craft back to Venus, and now the probe is just about ready to start science operations. “Akatsuki has been performing test observations by turning on its onboard observation instruments one by one,” Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) officials wrote in an update on Friday (April 1). “The instruments are starting up normally, and we have already conducted successful observations that are equivalent to a ‘minimum success,'” they added. “Thus we will move to regular operations in mid-April.” The $300 million Akatsuki spacecraft, whose name means “dawn” in Japanese, was designed to study Venus’ clouds, weather and atmosphere up close using six different instruments. The probe’s observations should help researchers better understand how Venus, which may have been quite Earth-like billions of years ago, became so hot and seemingly inhospitable to life, JAXA officials have said. The original plan called for Akatsuki to orbit Venus once every 30 hours, at a maximum distance (apoapsis) of about 50,000 miles. But the second-chance run at Venus put the probe in a 13-day orbit that took Akatsuki as far as 273,000 miles from the planet’s surface, JAXA officials said. Over the past few months, Akatsuki has been working to get to a less elliptical orbit; JAXA has stated that it wants the probe to be in a nine-day orbit with an apoapsis of about 193,000 miles by the time regular operations begin. Akatsuki should still be able to accomplish most of its original science goals from such an orbit, JAXA officials have said. The vessel launched in May 2010 along with JAXA’s Ikaros probe, which became the first spacecraft ever to deploy and use a solar sail in interplanetary space.

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Japan orders its military to shoot down North Korean missile if threatened

Japan on Wednesday condemned Pyongyang’s plan to launch a space rocket, calling it a thinly disguised test of a long-distance ballistic missile. The government ordered Aegis ballistic missile defense warships of the Maritime Self-Defense Force and land-based Patriot PAC-3 rocket units to respond should projections show components falling in Japanese territory. “This will effectively mean the firing of a ballistic missile. It would be a clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and a grave, provocative act against the security of our country,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a Lower House session Wednesday. “Japan, in cooperation with the United States and South Korea, will strongly urge North Korea to refrain from (conducting) the launch,” Abe said. On Tuesday night, North Korea notified the International Maritime Organization that it plans to send a “satellite” into orbit between Feb. 8 and 25. It said the launch will take place on one of those days between 7:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Japan time. Pyongyang conducted a fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6. The planned launch is widely seen as both a test and a demonstration of its advances in rocketry. Feb. 16 is the birthday of late leader Kim Jong Il, the father of current leader Kim Jong Un. Observers believe the launch window has been set around the day for domestic purposes — to bolster the nation’s morale.