Two weeks of news folks, and it’s heavy stuff. I hope you find it all as interesting as I did.
Big news for the world order as 3 major European powers and US allies—Germany, France, and Italy—have declared that they will join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). This global banking institution is viewed by the US as a direct rival to the World Bank and the other Bretton Woods institutions set up at the end of World War II, and could “reshape the global balance of power”. The United States has lobbied its allies not to join. South Korea is expected to join, but Japan, the US’s closest ally in Asia, is not.
Meanwhile, China and Japan held their first high-level security talks in four years. The talks come as tensions have risen over recent territorial disputes and disagreements over Japan’s acknowledgement (or lack thereof ) of past war aggressions.
An op/ed in the Japan Times points out the stark contrast in racial politics in Japan citing the fact that the performance of a controversial pop group who appears in blackface (an act repulsive to many Westerners, especially Americans) almost made it onto television, while in the same week the nation’s top beauty pageant crowned a half-black woman as the new Miss Universe Japan. The author’s main point, set within the context of the newsworthy Miss Universe Japan outcome, was to examine the fact that the pulling of the blackface performance was not considered “news” by the nation’s media, and was thus not deeply examined as to why it may be considered inappropriate in today’s media marketplace.
This article in the Washington Post examines the astounding rate of China’s cement consumption, a figure so high that it “stunned Bill Gates,” who wrote about this phenomenon in his blog. According to the article China’s cement consumption in the 3 years between 2010 and 2012 was about 140 percent of U.S. consumption for the entire 20th century! The article goes over the reasons for this astonishing rate of cement consumption, citing China’s massive building boom and rapid urbanization. China is urbanizing at a much faster rate than the US did in the 20th century. “In 2009, China had 221 cities with more than a million people in them, compared with only 35 in Europe” (and only 9 in the US as of 2013 ), and the Pearl River Delta megalopolis had 42 million inhabitants in 2010 (up to 80 million in as of 2014 ). “By some estimates, half of China’s infrastructure has been built since 2000,” but the article points out that often quality is sacrificed when it comes to this rapid building and the environment often suffers as well. As a counterpoint the article also mentions that this building boom has led to great economic growth and reduction of poverty.
Debate ensues over a plan to build a massive sea-wall to protect Japan’s coastline from devastation by future tsunamis. The government plans to construct 440 concrete walls along 230 miles of coastline in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, the areas hit hardest by the tsunami in 2011. The £5billion plan ($7.4billion, ￥886billion) has garnered opposition among local residents.
And finally, this piece in the Japan Times discusses the rigid methods of Japan’s post-war education system—whereby students spend their young lives vigorously studying for hellish entrance exams—and how Japan’s education minister, Hakubun Shimomura, is planning to reform this system and bring in a more Western approach to examinations. The article also contrasts Shimomura’s reform goals with his conservative stance on Japan’s war-memory, a hotly debated issue in current regional politics.