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Asia Unbound

CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.

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Showing posts for "Disasters"

Warning: Political Bickering Dangerous to Japan’s Health

by Sheila A. Smith
Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan reacts he he feels an earthquake in the upper house of parliament in Tokyo on March 11, 2011.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan reacts he he feels an earthquake in the upper house of parliament in Tokyo on March 11, 2011. (Toru Hanai/Courtesy Reuters)

 

It has been a month since the terrible earthquake/tsunami shock of March 11. Across the country, there is a palpable desire to reach out to the Tohoku region, and to bring the country together. 

But politics are returning to Tokyo. Last Sunday was the first of two sets of local elections scheduled for April. Before the crisis, the Kan government was weakened as it sought to pass the national budget. For the LDP and the New Komeito, opposition parties that had formed the coalition government up until the DPJ’s victory in 2009, these elections posed an opportunity to demonstrate their electoral strength, and challenge the prime minister. Read more »

NGO Efforts to Meet Japan’s Needs

by Sheila A. Smith
A girl holds her soft toy at an evacuation center in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, northern Japan, March 31, 2011

A girl holds her soft toy at an evacuation center in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, northern Japan, March 31, 2011 (Kim Kyung Hoon/Courtesy Reuters)

The March 11 disaster in Japan has prompted a broad effort at civic support, both within and without Japan, to provide assistance to the stricken Tohoku region. In a country where non-governmental organizations have struggled to create space for civic involvement in public affairs, today there seems to be a profusion of groups engaged in the disaster relief effort.

Japan has for decades supported disaster relief efforts abroad. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the national government’s agency tasked with administering Official Development Assistance, has staffed disaster relief efforts in countries as far afield as Pakistan, Mexico, Philippines and Haiti. Moreover, the JICA staff has worked closely with a growing group of Japanese NGOs organized to provided medical and technical assistance to those in need around the globe. Peace Winds Japan, for example, has played a significant role in post-conflict reconstruction activities in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Sudan.

But today, the roles are reversed. Read more »

Operation Tomodachi

by Sheila A. Smith
Sailors load food and humanitarian supplies onto a helicopter aboard the USS Ronald Reagan which is off the coast of Japan providing humanitarian assistance as directed in support of Operation Tomodachi, March 18, 2011.

Sailors load food and humanitarian supplies onto a helicopter aboard the USS Ronald Reagan which is off the coast of Japan, providing humanitarian assistance as directed in support of Operation Tomodachi, March 18, 2011. (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters)

[Click here for information on how to locate friends and family in Japan, and here for how you can help]  

Last week, I discussed the front line role of Japan’s Self Defense Force, and received many emails from Japanese friends in Tokyo asking that I do the same for the U.S. government personnel, uniformed and civilian, that are providing much needed assistance to Japan.  

Operation Tomodachi—a broad disaster relief operation in support of Japan’s response to the triple crises—is growing by the day, and is a remarkable testament to the full throttle U.S. government effort to help the Japanese people. From the beginning the U.S. military was quickly on the scene; the U.S. Forces Japan stationed in country organized themselves for immediate support and Pacific Command forces outside Japan regrouped to lend assistance. An aircraft carrier task force, led by the USS Ronald Reagan, headed immediately for Japan, followed by eight other ships stocked with emergency relief equipment and supplies.  Read more »

Remembering Katrina and Sichuan Amidst Japan’s Crisis

by Elizabeth C. Economy
A man walks through the flooded Terme area of New Orleans, lying under several feet of water on August 29, 2005.

A man walks through the flooded Terme area of New Orleans, lying under several feet of water on August 29, 2005. (Rick Wilking/Courtesy Reuters)

As I watched the Japan crisis unfold in rapid succession—the earthquake, the tsunami and then the collapsing nuclear reactors at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima—I was struck by the absolute dignity and unity of the Japanese people. My colleague Sheila Smith has an excellent post on this, so no need for me to repeat.

Instead, I want to raise the issue of context, or the lack thereof.

For much of the past ten days, I have felt as though I was in an alternative reporting reality. Particularly in the early days, the western news media focused almost exclusively on the failures within the Japanese system: the failure of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to share information; the failure of the Prime Minister to stay on top of the crisis, and the failure of the Japanese people to retain hope and not hoard groceries. There was little to no reporting on the strength and resilience of the people. Yet many voices from Japan suggested this. How did we miss half the story?
Read more »

Voices from Inside Japan—No Panic, Simply Strength and Kindness

by Sheila A. Smith
A student volunteer holds a sign in front of instant noodles for evacuees from Futaba, a city near the quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, at the evacuees' new shelter Saitama Super Arena, near Tokyo March 20, 2011, nine days after an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan.

A student volunteer holds a sign in front of instant noodles for evacuees from Futaba, a city near the quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, at the evacuees' new shelter Saitama Super Arena, near Tokyo March 20, 2011, nine days after an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. (Jo Yong hak/Courtesy Reuters)

[Click here for information on how to locate friends and family in Japan, and here for how you can help] 

There are so many issues to discuss, but this morning, I thought I ought to share with you the voices I heard throughout the past week—on blogs, in conversation, and in the flowing emails to those of us outside the country—that ran counter to the speculation and panicky shrillness of our media’s coverage of the situation inside Japan. 

Read more »

Lessons from the 2004 Asian Tsunami

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Rescue workers make their way through an area devastated by a tsunami as they search for victims in Rikuzentakata March 21, 2011.

Rescue workers make their way through an area devastated by a tsunami as they search for victims in Rikuzentakata March 21, 2011. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

In the wake of the tsunami and earthquake, Japan is going to embark upon a massive reconstruction effort. Japan is a wealthy country, but already the sheer scale of the disaster, combined with the Japanese government’s apparent paralysis, is making initial relief efforts challenging.

Though the 2004 Asian tsunami mostly hit nations far poorer than Japan, like Indonesia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, there are lessons that can be taken from the 2004-05 relief and rebuilding effort that can be applied to Japan. In a CFR expert brief, I examine some of those lessons.

Read more »

A Stunned Japan Turns to Its Military

by Sheila A. Smith
Japan Self-Defense Forces officers search for victims in Higashimatsushima City, Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan, after an earthquake and tsunami struck the area, March 14, 2011.

Japan Self-Defense Forces officers search for victims in Higashimatsushima City, Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan, after an earthquake and tsunami struck the area, March 14, 2011. (Courtesy Reuters/Kyodo)

[Click here for information on how to locate friends and family in Japan, and here for how you can help]

For much of the postwar period, the Japanese Self Defense Force (SDF) has remained in the background of national life. Post-war sensitivities about pre-war militarism left little room for the SDF to vaunt its capabilities, or its bravery.

But today, as the country faces a complex and simultaneous series of crises, Japan’s military has emerged as the nation’s most relied upon “first responder.” In Japan’s largest disaster relief operation ever, the SDF has every asset deployed. The Maritime Self Defense Force has 59 ships offshore, and there are a total of 176 helicopters and 319 fixed-wing aircraft engaged. Personnel total 70,000 (40,000 Ground Self Defense Force (GSDF) and 30,000 combined Maritime and Air Self Defense Force personnel), and the number is growing. For the first time in the postwar era, the Japanese government has mobilized its reserves.

Read more »

Does the United States Have the Leverage to Press China to Become a Full Global Health Donor?

by Yanzhong Huang
Mexican soldiers unload boxes with medical aid donated by China at the airport in Oaxaca, Mexico on May 5, 2009.

Mexican soldiers unload boxes with medical aid donated by China at the airport in Oaxaca, Mexico on May 5, 2009. (STR New/Courtesy Reuters)

On March 11, I had a debate with Ambassador Jack Chow of Carnegie Mellon University on the question: “Should the United States press China to make the full transition from health aid recipient to global health donor?” The event was hosted by the CSIS Global Health Policy Center as part of its “Fault Lines in Global Health Debate” series. You can listen here to our discussion on China’s status as a recipient of and contributor to global health aid, as well as the prospect for China to make the full transition to a global health donor.

The debate occurred only a few hours after the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. While I was concerned about the safety of my Japanese friends, I could not help but think of China’s Tangshan earthquake 35 years ago, which resulted in the loss of around 250,000 lives. To the surprise of the international community, China had declined the offer of humanitarian and medical assistance by Japan and other foreign governments. By contrast, China today faces growing pressures to significantly increase its global health aid and other development assistance. Critics find it ridiculous that a country with the largest foreign exchange reserve and the second largest fiscal revenue is still aggressively pursuing grants from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

While I am sympathetic to the critics’ perspectives, I don’t think the United States has very much leverage to press China to become a full global health donor. Read more »

Emperor Urges Japanese to Hope as Acute Needs Grow

by Sheila A. Smith
People watch a television broadcasting Japan's Emperor Akihito's televised address to the nation at an electronics retail store in Tokyo.

People watch a television broadcasting Japan's Emperor Akihito's televised address to the nation at an electronics retail store in Tokyo. (Issei Kato/Courtesy Reuters)

[Click here for information on how to locate friends and family in Japan, and here for how you can help]

Day five of the struggle to cope with the devastation in Japan brings increasing fears, but it has revealed yet again the herculean effort currently underway across Japanese society to address the complex and urgent needs of the nation.   

Japan’s Emperor Akihito, in a recorded message, asked the Japanese people not to give up hope and to reach out to each other in this time of great crisis. He urged the earliest relief be delivered to those in northeast Tohoku region who are still suffering after the earthquake and tsunami, and asked those at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant to do all that they could to avoid a worsening of the situation. Read more »

Japan and China’s New Nuclear Accountability

by Elizabeth C. Economy
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo. is seen in this satellite image taken on November 21, 2004.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, is seen in this satellite image taken on November 21, 2004. (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters)

China’s nuclear industry’s free ride may soon be coming to an end. While nuclear power represents a mere fraction of China’s overall energy use—just over one percent—China plans to add another ten nuclear power projects to the books as part of the 12th Five Year Plan. By 2020, China wants to have a  nuclear power capacity of 86 GW–a dramatic increase considering China’s current capacity of 10.8 GW (To put that in perspective, in 2008, Japan’s nuclear capacity was 48 GW while the United States’ was 101 GW). China also has big plans to export its nuclear technology in the coming years.

Despite such ambitious plans for an often contentious technology, there is virtually no public debate in China on the topic of nuclear power. In a country where environmental activists protest everything from dams to incinerators to the Maglev Train, the issues of nuclear safety and contamination are completely off the radar. Greenpeace Beijing, which should be a natural repository for anti-nuclear activity in China, has no campaign or study underway on the issue. Perhaps they want to avoid the fate of the two known activists—uranium mine worker Sun Xiaodi and his daughter Sun Haiyan—who were sentenced to jail in 2009 for inciting the public with libelous slogans of “nuclear pollution” and “human rights violations.”

Read more »