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Friday, December 30, 2016

Japan's Prime Minister's Pearl Harbour Visit

    Prime Minister Abe Shinzo made a visit to the American naval base Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, on 27 December, local time.  It was this base that the Japanese naval air force attacked on 7 December 1941, where 2,400 Americans died, thus bringing America into a war.  In Japan the war is usually thought to have started on 8 December.

   After making a visit to the memorial built on the sunken battleship Arizona, Abe made a speech. It was essentially a speech of condolences meant for the Americans.  There were no words of regret, let alone of apology.  The visit itself was described as the return visit to Mr. Obama's Hiroshima visit earlier this year.

   The speech is bound to raise several questions.  First, he talked of Japan sticking to the principle of peace.  He said nothing of the sort in concrete terms, however.  Rather he talked of the episode of a Japanese Zero pilot who died there on that day and was later buried by the Americans with appropriate military honour.  He said the brave respect the brave.  He likes to talk on these topics more.

   More seriously, he talked of the firm Japan-US alliance, and called it the alliance of hope.  But it is a military alliance.  If it is not against China it is against whom?  In the meeting with Mr. Obama prior to the speech, Abe nodded on the ongoing construction of the huge and permanent US base in Okinawa. This is a dreadful scenario.

   Above all, he said nothing on the nature of the war Japan forced on the US on that day.  Why did we have to fight the US, or for that matter with Britain and the Netherland also, when we were already fighting China?  It was because we were not winning in China, and desperately tried to do so by defeating the US.  It was a hopeless war from the beginning.  It was the Asian nations that really suffered.  In fact the Japanese landed on British Malaya(Malaysia) one hour before attacking Pearl Harbour.  Abe's speech will not go far in convincing the Asian nations.          

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Toward Banning Nuclear Weapons

     On 23 December the UN General Assembly voted to convene a conference at the UN to negotiate a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.  It will be convened for 15 days during 27 to 31 March and 15 June to 7 July, 2017. All the member countries are invited to participate. The next General Assembly, 72nd, beginning in September 2017, will be hearing the results of the negotiation.  Not only the Governments but those representing the civil society will also be participating.

     What a fine Christmas present it was!  The proposal was based on an earlier one which had been voted in the First Committee of the General Assembly on 27 October.  Further, it had been based on the enthusiastic hopes and wishes of the innumerable number of people all over the world who sincerely wanted to see a nuclear-free world.  Biological weapons were already banned in 1975, and the chemical weapons in 1997. Now is the time for the nuclear weapons.

     Predictably the voting was not without some disappointment.  There were 113 for and 35 against, with 13 abstentions. All the Permanent Members of the Security Council, except China who abstained, voted against it.

     Probably more startling was the fact that Japan, the only country victimized by the nuclear weapons in a war, voted against it.  It did so also on the previous October proposal.  The Government is saying that it is because the proposal will make the distance between the nuclear powers and others wider.  It is an ill-concealed excuse for following the US policy, and is bound to intensify the political divide in Japan.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

State of Scientific Research in Japan

    A few days ago, Prof.Kajita Takaaki of the University of Tokyo, who got the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2015, gave an interview to a newspaper in which he warned against the ongoing tendencies in fundamental research in this country.

    First of all he said that the number of published articles in the field from Japan used to be the second in the world, but it has come down to the 5th.  The articles coming from China are fast increasing.

    Then he said that the budget has been shrinking, and as the result the number of the posts for the professors and associate professors is decreasing.  Even more alarming is that the number of research assistants is decreasing more fast.  If you look at the teaching staff below the mid-40s in his University, those without tenure are occupying more than half.  This is a condition absolutely unfavourable for the basic research.

    There are two aspects to the fundamental research.  One is it will be useful to the life of the people in the long run.  The second is it will help construct the intellectual property of the whole of the mankind.  Therefore one cannot expect it to be of immediate use.

     Prof.Kajita also referred to what Prof.Oosumi Yoshinori, from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, who had just got the Nobel Prize for Physics or Medicine for 2016, said on the importance of fundamental research.  I had an opportunity of hearing Prof.Oosumi's 50-minute acceptance speech the previous night, 10 December.  May I add a few things from the speech.

     The speaker talked about such things as 'protein synthesis', 'vacuole', 'autophagy', 'genes', or 'degradation'.  At the same time he mentioned, with gratitude', the names of a number of his collaborators, including some women, his wife among them.  He talked about the relation of cooperation in research and the division of labour.  He discussed the relevance of 'autophasy', and concluded by saying 'the research is continuing'.  The whole speech was an encouragement of the fundamental research by Oosumi, who called himself, with apparent pride, as 'a basic scientist'.         

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Indo-Japanese Nuclear Cooperation

     There was a significant development in the Indo-Japanese relations earlier this month.  On 11 November the Prime Ministers of the two countries, in their third meeting, signed an agreement enabling Japan to export nuclear power plants to India.  This was when the serious accidents at Fukushima are not able, and are unlikely to do so, to see the light of the day, India is still outside the NPT system, and is steadily developing her nuclear arsenal.  This was also when the environmentalists and other citizens of India are up against the ongoing construction of some new nuclear plants here and there in their country.  It is apparent that it was with the interests of the plant manufacturers of Japan in view.  Many hibakusha(radioactivity-affected people), together with others, prominent among them the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are raising their voices against the agreement.

     Looked at from a different angle, there is no doubt that the agreement is a part of, if not exactly a joint encirclement of China, but then at least of a politico-strategic arrangement with China in view.  As such it must have satisfied the ruling elites of both the countries.

     The joint statement by the two PMs, made public on the same night, also said that the military cooperation between the two countries would be closer.  At the same time it said that Japan would help India to have Shinkansen-type bullet trains in different parts of India.  As the first step Japan would build it in Western India, in the 500 km distance between Mumbai and Ahmedabad.  This is one of the busiest sectors of transport in India today.  Also the latter is where the Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi comes from.  The next day, 12 November, Mr. Abe took Mr. Modi as far as to Kobe to take a look at such a bullet train workshop there.

     Would the Shinkansen solve the transport problem in India?  On 20 November there was the worst-ever train accident in the Indian history in Northern India, killing more than 150 people.  In my view what is really needed is to make the infrastructure, railway and road both, much more solid, resilient, and accident-free.  The bullet trains may serve the business people better, but will hardly help the commuters and other common people who make up the congestion.   

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The US Presidential Elections 2016

     In several hours' time the Americans will start voting for the new US President.  The writer is not able to predict which of the main contenders will win, let alone by roughly what margin.  He, however, wonders if, whichever of the two may win and by whatever margin, he/she may leave a very large group of American people un-accommodated into the new regime that he/she is going to construct.  In that sense the US will be seen more sharply split than in the present Obama era. And this is after an enormous amount of energy and money are spent, or rather wasted.

     In fact what is it that has been going on for more than several months until today? Have we heard any serious debate on the policies?  We cannot call policies such hollow words like, for example, 'Together let us make history', or 'Let us make America great again'.  Hopefully the voters will not be misled by those words designed to hide the contenders' real programmes.

     Take, for example, the issue of security in our part of the world, the Far East.  One of the two said that the existing security arrangements should be adhered to, and strengthened.  I would say, by all means no. That kind of policy has not helped to ease tension here in the least. Moreover, look at what is going on in Okinawa in Japan at this moment.  They are building a huge permanent military base.  The whole country is being Okinawanized in various ways.

     The other contender is of the opinion that the US allies like Germany and Japan are not paying toward the maintenance of the US military, and the US should stop defending them.  You are very much welcome to do so.  It will mean a lot towards the cause of peace in and around those countries.

     Unfortunately what this contender says is not correct.  Japan is paying several billions per annum for the maintenance of the US forces.  This is a huge amount which could have been spent on more constructive purposes.  Moreover this is the money Japan need not pay according to the terms of the treaties and other arrangements between the US and Japan.  So they are begging, and we are hopelessly subservient.

     For those and many other such reasons, none of the main contenders is desirable for the most important post in the world.  Whoever wins, he/she must take the interests of the vast and growing under-privileged masses and middle classes into serious consideration.  That is all I can say at this late hour, though hopefully it is not too late.