Japan’s fighter-sales plan ‘betrays pacifist tradition’ – Asian Media Report

Mar 30, 2024
Terrestrial globe showing Asia.

In Asian media this week: Tokyo ready to export ‘lethal weapons par excellence’. Plus: Failed Evergrande in massive accounting fraud; Thailand leads ASEAN on same-sex marriage; American naval dominance is waning; Big-brand carmakers planning EV utes; Not-so-Huggie – low birth rate ends baby-nappy production.

The Japanese Government has approved a plan to sell to other countries a next-generation fighter aircraft it is developing with Britain and Italy.

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper says in a new story the decision is contentious. It will allow Japan to export, for the first time, lethal weapons it coproduces.

The story describes the decision as the latest move away from the country’s postwar pacifist principles.

“Japan has long restricted arms exports under the country’s pacifist constitution,” the story says. “But [it] has rapidly taken steps to deregulate amid rising regional and global tensions, especially from nearby China.”

The paper is highly critical of the decision. It says in an editorial: “Japan has strictly refrained from arms exports for decades, resolving never to be a nation that encourages conflict or allows its weapons to be used to kill people.

“But this resolve is being nullified by the government’s decision on March 26 to lift the nation’s export ban on fighter jets, which are lethal weapons par excellence.”

The decision is a truly major shift in national security policy, the editorial says, but it was executed without public discussion.

It follows reviews of national security strategy, defence strategy and the defence buildup program. These reviews allowed Japan to acquire missiles that could strike enemy bases – effectively killing the country’s tradition “exclusively defence-oriented” posture.

Japan is also planning to upgrade five airports and 11 ports for use by the defence forces and the coast guard in times of military emergency.

The Japan Times says longer runways and bigger aprons, for use by fighters and transport aircraft, will be built at the designated airports. The ports will need docks that can accommodate destroyers and other larger ships, the paper says.

It says the decision to upgrade the facilities was taken in the light of concerns about China’s maritime assertiveness and a potential conflict over Taiwan.

Another property record – biggest profit fabrication

China Evergrande Group, once the country’s biggest property developer, has been accused of a massive accounting fraud, overstating its revenues by $US78 billion ($A120 billion) over two years, 2019 and 2020.

South China Morning Post commentator Zhou Xin said the company reported fake profits of 92 billion yuan ($US12.7 billion, or $A19.6 billion).

“It is the largest-known case of financial fabrication in Chinese history,” Zhou said. “The saga points to deep troubles in China’s real estate market…The company is unlikely to be the only one that has cooked its books.”

In January, a Hong Kong court ordered the liquidation of Evergrande. The fraud allegation was made public this month.

Zhou said the Chinese Securities Regulatory Commission had imposed fines on the group and its former chairman Hui Ka-yan. Hui would face “legal consequences” in the future.

India’s Business Standard newspaper carried a Bloomberg report saying the Evergrande fraud dwarfed international frauds, such as Enron, which inflated its profits by $US600 million ($A924 million).

The story said Hui had instructed company personnel to falsely inflate the annual results.

Another Bloomberg story, published by Singapore’s The Straits Times, said Chinese authorities were examining the role of PwC in Evergrande’s accounting practices.

The story quoted Nigel Stevenson, an analyst at accounting research firm GMT Research, as saying there were serious questions about PwC’s role – specifically what it knew about the fake revenue numbers.

GMT has previously questioned the accuracy of Evergrande’s financial reporting,” the story said. “[It] alleged in December 2023 that the developer may never have been profitable.”

SCMP also reported that receivers had put up for sale a property valued at HK$550 million ($US60 million or $A107 million) that had been linked to Hui.

The property was a three-storey detached house with an area of 4,933 square feet (458 square metres) on Black’s Link in The Peak district.

All parties back new marriage-equality law

Thailand is to become the first Southeast Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage.

Thai Enquirer, a news website, said a marriage equality bill sailed through the Lower House this week, winning a 399-10 majority.

It said the bill’s passage was a significant victory for LGBTQ+ advocacy groups that had been campaigning on the issue for years.

“It represents not just a legal change but a profound statement of inclusion and acceptance in a society known for its vibrant and diverse LGBTQ+ community,” it said.

Thailand’s bold step forward, it said, could serve as a catalyst for change in other ASEAN countries. Taiwan and Nepal are the only Asian jurisdictions that have accepted marriage equality.

Thailand’s bill was supported by all parties, Bangkok Post said. It now needed approval by the Senate and royal endorsement before becoming law. This was expected later in 2024.

“The passing of the bill marks a significant step forward towards cementing Thailand’s position as one of Asia’s most liberal societies on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues,” the paper said.

“Openness and free-wheeling attitudes [coexist] with traditional, conservative Buddhist values.”

Shrinking US fleet struggling with global mission

At the end of World War II, the US Navy had a fleet of almost 7,000 ships. At the end of the Cold War, the number was 529. Today, the fleet is made up of 292 ships.

The fleet is being run ragged because the US has adopted a global mission, says America academic Hal Brands.

“Welcome to a post-freedom of navigation world, in which aggressive powers encroach on key waterways and a slipping superpower struggles to beat them back,” he says.

Brands is Henry Kissinger distinguished professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. He is also a Bloomberg columnist. His commentary on America’s waning naval dominance has been published in Singapore’s The Straits Times.

Historically, he says, the seas were neither safe nor free.

“Pirates and privateers seized ships and stifled commerce,” he says. “Nations protected their own commerce and no one else’s.

“This really changed only with the ascendancy of the Anglo-American sea powers from the 18th century onwards…

“Since 1945, the US Navy has patrolled the oceans as part of its project to ensure a secure and prosperous America by promoting a secure and prosperous world.”

But now defenders of freedom of navigation have grown weaker and challengers more assertive.

Examples he gives are: the Houthi drone and missile attacks in the Red Sea; Beijing’s attempts to stake a claim to almost all of the South China Sea; the “shooting gallery” in the Black Sea; and Russia’s claim to own the northern sea route through the Arctic Ocean.

“As America’s hegemonic sea power has ebbed, the number of international maritime disputes has surged,” Brands says.

“China now has the world’s largest navy by number of ships. The balance of naval power is swinging towards some of the very nations challenging freedom of the seas.”

Footnote: Brands says other democratic countries’ navies are pitiable. He says: “Australia, an island nation dependent on seaborne trade, cannot join the scrap in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden because it possesses just three destroyers equal to the task.”

Companies say EV utes are on the way

Peter Dutton has labelled, wrongly, the Federal Government’s fuel efficiency standards a “ute tax” (with much of the media meekly following suit). Dutton claims the new rules will drive up the price of such popular utes as the Toyota Hilux and the Isuzu D-Max.

But presumably not if the utes are EVs, especially if they are big-selling brands familiar to Australian tradies and farmers.

Bangkok Post reports that Toyota and Isuzu have said they will start manufacturing Hilux and D-Max EVs from next year. The paper quotes Toyota Thailand president Noriaki Yamashita as saying the EVs would be mass produced.

The Nation says Thailand will see investments of 227 billion Baht ($A9.5 billion) in the EV industry over the next few years.
Toyota, Honda, Isuzu and Mitsubishi had announced plans to invest 150 billion baht ($A 6.3 billion) over four years in EV manufacturing in Thailand, which provides a big share of Japanese-brand cars exported to Australia.

The Thailand Board of Investment has approved EV-related business investment worth 77.26 billion Baht ($A 3.25 billion). The investments are for producing electric cars, motorcycles, trucks, buses, batteries and charging stations, The Nation says.

It quotes the board’s secretary-general, Narit Terdsathirasak, as saying one of the country’s main goals is establishing the foundation of a new industry, expanding on the existing automotive industry that has been driving Thailand’s economy for the past 50 years.

The Nation says the Thai Government has extended until 2027 an EV promotion campaign, supporting EV manufacturing and adoption.
Thailand aims to become ASEAN’s EV hub, ranking in the Top 10 EV producers globally, it says.

Toyota’s Yamashita says in a separate story the company choose Thailand as a production site for EV because of the government’s incentive program.

Nappy company becomes adults-only

Japan’s birth rate is at a record low and is declining sharply.

This is having an impact on Japanese businesses – not least on the production of disposable nappies.

South China Morning Post reports that Oji Nepia, a subsidiary of Oji Holdings, a paper-product giant, has announced it will stop making baby nappies at its Japanese factories and will shift to a product for which it expects demand to increase: adult disposable nappies.

In 2017, the Government forecast the number of births would remain above 800,000-a-year until 2030. But last year the country recorded the births of only 758,631 children.

In 2022, SCMP says, children under the age of 15 made up less than 12 per cent of the population but those 65 and over accounted for almost 30 per cent.

“Going forward, we plan to strengthen production of adult disposable diapers,” the company said.

It said, however, it would keep on making baby nappies in its overseas facilities and aimed to increase sales in foreign markets.

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