FOCUS: Difficulties Continue for Kishida after State Visit to U.S.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has apparently succeeded in demonstrating the strong Japan-U.S. ties around the world during his latest visit to the United States as a state guest, but he may find it difficult to leverage the diplomatic achievement in shoring up his flagging administration. 
   "I was able to tell the U.S. Congress, the American people and the world what kind of future Japan and the United States, as global partners, are trying to create for the next generation," Kishida told reporters in the southern U.S. state of North Carolina on Friday.
   At a White House summit Wednesday, Kishida and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed to strengthen their countries' cooperation in various fields, including security and defense, apparently keeping China, which is increasing its hegemonic moves, in mind.
   In his speech at a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Thursday, Kishida underlined the need for Japan and the United States to work together to maintain the international order, receiving a standing ovation from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
   In North Carolina, Kishida highlighted Japanese companies' investment in the United States, through his visits to an automotive battery plant of Toyota Motor Corp. and a factory of Honda Motor Co.'s aircraft unit, making preparations in case former U.S. President Donald Trump, who attaches importance to bolstering economic benefits for his country, returns to the White House in the November presidential election.

Biden and Kishida herald ‘new era’ for U.S.-Japan alliance

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. President Joe Biden announced a “new era” for their countries’ alliance during a state visit to Washington by the Japanese leader on Wednesday, with the pair heralding a historic upgrade of defense ties as they look to beef up Tokyo’s role in countering China’s growing assertiveness.

The state visit — which includes all the fanfare, from a military honor guard in full regalia and a swanky black tie banquet — was the culmination of years of deepening cooperation under Biden and Kishida that has taken the U.S.-Japan relationship to new heights.

“Over the last three years, the partnership between Japan and the United States has been transformed into a truly global partnership,” Biden said ahead of talks with Kishida at the White House.

The two leaders pledged to push ties even closer, unveiling plans to revamp the U.S. military’s command and control frameworks in Japanfollowing a similar move by the Self-Defense Forces, “to enable seamless integration of operations and capabilities and allow for greater interoperability and planning between U.S. and Japanese forces.”

The move comes as concerns rise over China’s military moves around democratic Taiwan and nuclear-armed North Korea’s increasingly belligerent saber-rattling.

Talks on those changes would be fleshed out at so-called two-plus-two talks between the allies’ defense chiefs and top diplomats, Kishida said. A meeting is expected to take place in the coming months.

In total, Biden and Kishida unveiled a spate of around 70 agreements — in what one senior White House official said was “the largest set of substantial, significant deliverables that we've seen” to date.

The agreements include a deal to allow Japanese companies to handle major repair work for warships, while the allies also "plan to explore the possibility of conducting maintenance and repair on engines of Japan-based U.S. Air Force aircraft, including fourth generation fighters," the leaders said in a joint statement.

The two sides also said they would create a new consultative body "to leverage our respective industrial bases to meet the demand for critical capabilities and maintain readiness over the long term." The Defense Industrial Cooperation, Acquisition and Sustainment (DICAS) forum, co-led by the Pentagon and Japanese Defense Ministry, would use this "to identify priority areas for partnering U.S. and Japanese industry" on defense and military equipment.

Biden and Kishida also unveiled plans to upgrade defense communications networks and to network air defense capabilities between the U.S., Australia and Japan to counter air and missile threats.

As competition with Russia and China in space heats up, the two leaders also announced a goal of making a Japanese national the first non-American to land on the moon as part of the NASA-led Artemis mission.

Biden characterized the bolstered ties as “the most significant upgrade in our alliance since it was first established,” with one senior White House official calling the developments “unimaginable just a few years ago and frankly, unimaginable with a leader other than Fumio Kishida.”

Kishida, who is the first Japanese leader to make a state visit to the U.S. since Shinzo Abe in 2015, will also follow his late predecessor indelivering an address to a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday.

The visit highlighted the importance that Biden has put on building up alliances in the face of China, but especially its alliance with Japan — which has undergone a dramatic shift in defense policy overseen by Kishida.

This shift has included a commitment to increase defense spending to 2% of gross domestic product by 2027 and most recently an easing of strict defense export guidelines to enable the transfer of a future sixth-generation fighter aircraft and finished defense products, including lethal ones, manufactured in Japan under foreign license to the patent-holding countries.

At a news conference following about two hours of talks, Biden touted his push to “rebuild the muscle” of the United States’ alliances, which he called “America’s greatest asset.”

BOJ Jan. Meeting Discussed Policy after Negative Rate Lifting

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — Bank of Japan policymakers at their meeting in January discussed proactively its monetary policy management after the end of the central bank’s negative interest rate policy, minutes of the meeting showed Monday.

The BOJ’s Policy Board decided last week to end the policy of applying an interest rate of minus 0.1% on part of commercial financial institutions’ current account deposits at the central bank, marking its first interest rate hike in about 17 years.

The board also decided to scrap the yield curve control regime, which called for guiding the yields on 10-year Japanese government bonds to around zero.

As to the BOJ’s new short-term interest rate target after the termination of the negative rate policy, one Policy Board member said at the Jan. 22-23 meeting that the bank would encourage the unsecured overnight call rate, the key short-term interbank lending rate, to move “in a range of zero to 0.1%,” the minutes showed.

Some members said that the BOJ would continue JGB purchases regardless of whether the yield curve control framework is terminated, indicating that a system to prevent a spike in long-term interest rates should be in place after the abolition of the yield curve control, according to the minutes.

At last week’s meeting, the Policy Board decided to nudge the unsecured overnight call rate to around zero to 0.1% and continue buying massive amounts of JGBs for the time being, while scrapping the yield curve control framework, including the application of the negative interest rate on some current account deposits. The yield curve control was the pillar of the BOJ’s ultraeasy monetary policy.

At the Jan. 22-23 meeting, Policy Board members agreed on the importance of the BOJ organizing its “basic thinking” on points it should take into account when changing its policy and on its policy conduct thereafter, in light of the growing likelihood of the central bank’s 2% consumer inflation target being met, the minutes showed.

Many members agreed that accommodative financial conditions would “highly likely” be maintained after the BOJ takes policy actions such as ending the negative rate policy, according to the minutes.

Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation issues statement on Moscow terrorist attack

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has issued a statement on Friday’s deadly attack in Moscow, in which at least 113 people died.

In the statement, entitled “Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on the Terrorist Attack at Moscow Crocus Concert Hall”, the Ministry states:

“We are shocked by the deaths of dozens of people and hundreds injured in a terrorist attack at the Moscow Crocus Concert Hall on 22 March 2024.

The Royal Government of Cambodia condemns the vicious attack in the strongest possible terms.

We extend our deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of the victims and the Government of the Russian Federation, and wish a speedy and full recovery to those injured.

Cambodia reiterates that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of motivation. We stand with the Russian government and people during this time of grief.”

Trump poised for billions as stock market deal passes

Donald Trump appears to be scrambling for funds to pay a $464m (£365m) fraud fine. Could the stock market ride to his rescue? 

Trump Media, which runs the social media platform Truth Social, is poised to become a publicly listed company, after a majority of shareholders of Digital World Acquisition Corp voted on Friday to acquire it. 

Mr Trump is due to have a stake of at least 58% in the merged company, worth nearly $3bn at Digital World's current share prices. 

It's an astonishing potential windfall for Mr Trump in exchange for a business whose own auditor warned last year it was at risk of failure. 

Never mind the many red flags associated with the deal, including unresolved lawsuits from former business partners. There's also an $18m settlement that Digital World agreed to pay last year to resolve fraud charges over how the merger plan came together.

Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter fired after reports of theft

Baseball sensation Shohei Ohtani's long-time interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, has been fired by the Los Angeles Dodgers after allegations of theft connected to illegal gambling.

According to ESPN, at least $4.5m (£3.5m) was transferred from Ohtani's bank account to a bookmaker. Ohtani is not accused of wrongdoing.

Mr Mizuhara spoke to the sports network about his gambling debts on Tuesday.

The news comes as Ohtani made his regular season debut with the Dodgers.

The team's senior communications director has told the BBC that they are gathering information and that they "can confirm that interpreter Ippei Mizuhara has been terminated".

ESPN has said it reviewed bank information showing Ohtani's name on two $500,000 payments, one sent in September and the other in October, to a bookmaking operation run by Mathew Bowyer.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Mr Bowyer was investigated by a prosecution team targeting a multimillion-dollar illegal sports betting scheme but was not charged with a crime.

Sports betting is legal in 38 states in America but it remains illegal in California. 

Major League Baseball has its own policy that bans "any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee" from betting on any baseball game and placing bets with illegal bookmakers.

It is not known whether any of Mr Mizuhara's sports gambling involved baseball games. No one has alleged that Ohtani placed any bets.

Mr Mizuhara reportedly said in his interview with ESPN that he had asked the baseball star for help with his gambling debts.

"Obviously, [Ohtani] wasn't happy about it and said he would help me out to make sure I never do this again," Mr Mizuhara reportedly said.

"I want everyone to know Shohei had zero involvement in betting. I want people to know I did not know this was illegal. I learned my lesson the hard way. I will never do sports betting ever again."

A spokesman for Ohtani initially told ESPN that the former Los Angeles Angels star had transferred funds to cover his interpreter's gambling debts but he has since recanted this account. 

Mr Mizuhara himself has reportedly changed his story, now saying that Ohtani did not know about the gambling debts and did not transfer the money.

Chinese vice president meets Cambodian King, Queen Mother

Chinese Vice President Han Zheng met with Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk in Beijing on Thursday.

Noting that China and Cambodia are good neighbours, good friends and good partners, Han said bilateral relations have withstood the test of the evolving international landscape and remained rock-solid for more than half a century, setting a fine example of equality and mutual benefits between countries of different sizes.

He said that under the strategic guidance of the leaders of the two countries, China and Cambodia have ushered in a new era of building a high-quality, high-level and high-standard China-Cambodia community with a shared future.

“China stands ready to work with Cambodia to implement the important consensus reached between the leaders of the two countries, push for new progress in China-Cambodia comprehensive strategic cooperation and bring more benefits to the two peoples,” Han added.

Sihamoni and Monineath expressed appreciation for China’s long-term selfless assistance to Cambodia and a series of global initiatives proposed by China, noting that Cambodia firmly abides by the one-China principle and is willing to join hands with China to build a Cambodia-China community with a shared future, deepen exchanges and cooperation in various fields and pass on the traditional friendship from generation to generation.Xinhua

Boeing: How much trouble is the company in?

"It's as if I'm watching a troubled child" is how Captain Dennis Tajer describes flying a Boeing 737 Max.

The head of the Allied Pilots Association, the pilots union for American Airlines, insists he would never board an aircraft if it were not safe. 

But he says he can no longer take the quality of the plane he's flying for granted.

"I'm at an alert status that I've never had to be in on a Boeing airplane," he says.

"Because I don't trust that they've followed the processes that have previously kept me safe on Boeing airplanes for over three decades."

Executives at the aerospace giant's shiny new headquarters in Arlington, Virginia could be forgiven for feeling like they are under siege.

Every day seems to bring more bad headlines for the company, which is coming under pressure from regulators and airlines, and has seen its reputation badly damaged.

The trouble began in January, when a disused emergency exit door blew off a brand new Boeing 737 Max shortly after take-off from Portland International Airport.

An initial report from the US National Transportation Safety Board concluded that four bolts meant to attach the door securely to the aircraft had not been fitted.

Boeing is reportedly facing a criminal investigation into the incident itself, as well as legal action from passengers aboard the plane.

Five years ago Boeing faced one of the biggest scandals in its history, after two brand new 737 Max planes were lost in almost identical accidents that cost 346 lives.

The cause was flawed flight control software, details of which it was accused of deliberately concealing from regulators. 

The company agreed to pay $2.5bn (£1.8bn) to settle fraud charges, and admitted deception, though in later court hearings it formally pleaded not guilty. It subsequently faced widespread accusations that it had put profits ahead of passengers' lives. 

It reaffirmed its commitment to safety, and in early 2020 its newly appointed chief executive Dave Calhoun promised it could "do better. Much better."

Yet the scrutiny that followed the incident in January this year has called that commitment into question.

Addressing those concerns, Mr Calhoun said: "We will go slow, we will not rush the system and we will take our time to do it right."

Earlier this month the US regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration, said that a six-week audit of the 737 Max production process at Boeing and its supplier Spirit Aerosystems had found "multiple instances where the companies failed to comply with manufacturing quality control requirements".

Nikkei: S. Korea, Japan, Germany to Join Forces on $2.5 Bln Loan for Chile Copper Mine

The financial institutions of South Korea, Japan and Germany will reportedly join forces on a two-point-five billion dollar loan to support a Chilean copper mine project.

According to Japan’s Nikkei News on Sunday, the government-affiliated financial institutions of the three nations and other lenders will provide a loan for the project at the Centinela mine, which is operated by United Kingdom-headquartered Antofagasta and Japanese trading house Marubeni.

The Japan Bank for International Cooperation will reportedly provide 950 million dollars for the project, which will expand the copper mine and construct a plant.

Other lenders include the financial institutions of South Korea, Germany and Export Development Canada, Japan's Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation and France's Credit Agricole.

Nikkei said the loan is expected to support a production capacity increase of about 140-thousand tons at the mine from the current annual production of 250-thousand tons.

Ukraine war: Is Europe doing enough to help against Russia?

When the widow of the Russian dissident Alexei Navalny addressed the European Parliament recently, she said something striking. "If you really want to defeat Putin, you have to become an innovator," Yulia Navalnaya told MEPs. "And you have to stop being boring." 

Being innovative and interesting may be traits not always associated with some European politicians. 

But they are having to think differently, not just about how better to support Ukraine but also to increase pressure on Russia. 

The shadow of a potential Donald Trump presidency hangs over the continent, raising doubts about America's long-term backing for Ukraine.

A $60bn (£47bn) package of US military support for Ukraine is held up in the House of Representatives. And on the battlefield, Russian forces are beginning to make gains against their less well armed opponents. 

Two years on from Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, European capitals have largely maintained their political backing for Kyiv. 

In January the European Union agreed in January a €50bn package ($55bn; £43bn) of grants and loans to fund Ukraine's government and public services. 

But the EU failed to meet its target of sending one million shells to Ukraine by the beginning of this month.

EU diplomats are still haggling over plans for a new €5bn top-up to the European Peace Facility to buy more weapons for Kyiv. And Nato says that this year about 12 European members may still not meet the alliance's target of spending 2% of national output on defence.