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Power games, ball games, trade deals and refugee misery
"Super typhoon" in Okinawa, first snow in Hokkaido and high winds up to 45 m/s across the country were testing Japan last week, while in New York world top leaders were rubbing elbows and building a better world at UN General Assembly. Behind thin veneer of smiles and handshakes, however, it was old game of power and money. China's president, attending UN for the first time and criticized for his country not carrying its weight tantamount to its superpower claim, promised billions of aid to trouble hot spot Middle-East and thousands of troops ready-by for UN peace keeping operations pushing Japan prime minister to double up his earlier promises for Middle East and, in line with pacifist Constitution, more bulldozers, not guns, for community building in Africa. If you thought Japan’s new defense laws radically changed its pacifist basic views, think again. Now the two countries, far away from the trouble, have committed 3-4 times more help there than European Union that has every reason to try stop the overwhelming human wave of refugees at its place of origin.

That's the reality of global politics: you've got to look good in other people's eyes - or at least better than your competitors - and spend money to impress and buy friends. Japan has long been UN's second biggest financier combined with its long time wish to become a permanent member in Security Council, something it proposed again jointly with Germany, India and Brazil. However, its fulfillment depends on vote from the other members, especially the big number of emerging countries. With money, active travel and participation in global politics PM Abe has been making more friends for Japan than any prime minister before him. It turned out that ensuring support for Japan's coveted Council seat was also the reason for Abe's short skip and jump from New York to Jamaica last week. With 70 years gone from WW2 end and start of UN, it seems most of the world feels a change in Council composition from just five war winners is long overdue, but China, who otherwise demands the world should accept its new big power position, is ironically against any change here.

Russia, in turn, seems to firmly cling to its big power past. No better example of its aspirations for global influence than the new move to join in the Syrian battles last week. Obama's cold shouldered snub of Putin in front of news cameras in New York turned into nasty surprise in Syria from Putin. Now we have 13 countries' air forces in the area bombing what all claim to be the ghastly IS, but in reality they are bombing whoever they are against: Turkey bombs Kurds, Iran helps Shias to fight Sunni IS in Iraq while Saudis bomb Shias in Yemen and Russia seem to now bomb anybody who is against the very Assad government that US wants out. In short, it's a complete mess and a human disaster that is bound to grow even worse pushing more refugees to neighboring countries and further to Europe.

The refugee numbers are staggering. As Jordan prime minister explained, the number of refugees in his country is now same as if there were 100 million in Europe, 64 million in USA, 280 million in China or 25 million in Japan. The neighboring Lebanon with just 3 million inhabitants, is holding 1 million refugees. With these numbers, even 1 million refugees in Europe seems little and the new US promise to take in 100,000 seems even less. In fact, many point out that the whole Middle East mess was started by US ill-advised invasion of Iraq so it should take in ALL of the refugees that it consequently created. Japan's strict intake record of 11 asylums granted from 5000 applications last year has been criticized, too, but few have pointed out that China's intake stands at perfect zero. At least, Japan and now China, too, have committed sizeable financial help to the place where it's all happening.

There's some news that Europe is getting its act together and finally putting controls in place to overcome the overwhelming mess last month. Then the huge masses of refugees seemed to just roll uncontrolled through one country to another and it is said that there are now over 600,000 unregistered "illegal" entrants in Europe. Now at least Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Finland have managed to re-establish normal border controls and legal registration of the arriving travelers following the EU agreement that each entrant should apply for asylum in the first country he or she enters and not allowed to just pass through to next one in look for better terms. As reported in last column, especially Iraq people pushed through other countries to Finland based on rumor it offered best support for immigrants. It even seemed Sweden was helping them do that. By now over 20,000 asylum seekers have come to Finland, proportionately roughly same as Germany or Sweden have received, and several hundreds more are arriving every day. They are now registered at entry point and held in receiving centers before they are transported to more permanent accommodation waiting for processing of their asylum applications. At the end, probably only half or so will be accepted as genuine refugees while the rest, who are just seeking better life, jobs and social welfare, will be sent back home. This is a long winding and expensive process and it would be much better if the EU countries could establish mutual check points at their original entry point to EU for separating the "black sheep" from white already there with an immediate return instead of allowing them to wander through and ending up with each country struggling to cope on its own.

With new stricter measures at receiving countries it is becoming clear how many of the entrants have been attracted by false information about unconditional help, generous welfare and overall free ride in Europe. Stuck in registration centers waiting for their applications proceeding, some of the entrants have started complain that the free food and lodging does not meet their standards, even fighting with their helpers or between themselves. With such unthankful news, it is no wonder that many in the receiving countries feel hostile about entrants and demand such generosity should be stopped. A Finn wearing Ku Klux Klan white robe threatening the refugees in my old hometown made the global news and in a neighboring town swastikas were painted on the refugee center door. Yet, it seems these actions are individual and rare, not shared with the majority of the Finns. As comparison, in Germany, the biggest receiving country, over 200 violent attacks on refugee centers with fire bombs etc have been recorded. Instead, Finnish Red Cross, that does most of the work feeding the refugees, has received recently record number of volunteers and money donations.

In Japan, the big political news this week is that the 12 Pacific nations after all managed to reach agreement on their Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) in their very last possible meeting. The final crucial points that took extra two days to settle were about newly developed medicines' patent times between USA and Australia as well as about New Zealand butter to Canada, not about Japan's food imports or US imports of cars and car parts as most observers predicted. The tariff elimination schedules, free quotas and domestic content rules between USA and Japan, the two biggest parties who make together 80% of the total TPP economically, were agreed surprisingly smoothly at the end.

The agreement remains to be ratified by parliaments in several parties and there are worries that the deal came politically too late for an early ratification in USA, the originator of the deal, despite the "Fast Track Authority" that the US Congress finally granted to Obama government. If the TPP deal goes through, it will be not only commercially beneficial for its members - Japan counts it will help expand the GDP by 0,6% - but also politically as it will bind the 12 partners together even otherwise together and puts pressure on China to conform to global play rules, hopefully even join in the pact later. For Japan, as earlier pointed out, it means another strong tie to its main ally USA and help for government to push through its reform plans, especially in the agriculture area.

The real Big News in Japan, however, has been the Japan national team's success in the Rugby World Cup that is being played in England. With only one win ever before in the World Cup, but instead some big number losses in this strange type of football for most here, the Brave Blossoms surprised the nation with a historical win over South Africa in its opening match. In my scale, this is like the soccer team Blue Samurais would beat Brazil in World Cup, simply unbelievable. It brought the whole nation into a frenzy and rugby fever: the next two matches against Scotland and Samoa were followed by no less than 25 millions television viewers or every fifth person in Japan despite their late night broadcast time. With two wins now from three matches, Brave Blossoms even have a distant chance to qualify for quarter finals, something Samurais never did.

My pleasure seeing the new interest on rugby is further augmented by the Japan team composition: following international rugby rules, a good number of Japan players are actually "gaijins", Brits, Aussies, Kiwis and Polynesians, who are living and playing here.. I hope that this will again help to open Japanese eyes and minds to the contributions that we foreigners who live here, can make for this country.

Timo Varhama  
Tokyo, 7 October, 2015   

Previous Columns

25 September 2015
"Big Problems, Big Talk and Big Figures - Each in Their Own Way".

9 September 2015
"Challenges in Japan, Tougher in USA and Europe ".

1 September 2015
"Looking at Neighbors, Japan Seems Stable and Safe ".

19 August 2015
"End Summer, Ceremonies and Holidays Over, Back to Work for All".

6 August 2015
"Hot Weather, Hot Air in Politics - From War Anniversary to Whisky in Space".

23 July 2015
Greece, China, EU, Japan: looking for the lost reality

23 June 2015
World No.1 City? The Difficulty of Passing New Laws, the Easiness of Spending a Lot

16 June 2015
"Only in Japan?" - Somethings, Yes, But Others Are Same All Over

4 June 2015
Security and Finances: Pensions, Companies, Banks, Olympics, FIFA

21 May 2015
Economy Back on Track, Record Profits at Big Companies

11 May 2015
Spring Events: Odaiba Rock, Shibuya Sex, Capitol Hill, White Hall and Red Square

22 April 2015
Elections, Elections - Finland, Japan, Around the World

30 March 2015
Sakura: beautiful, but just for a short, fleeting moment

16 March 2015
Better late than never - Japan moves slowly

2 March 2015
Three struck out, three more in doubt - Abe's ministers under attack again

19 February 2015
Spring, Sibelius, Chocolate, Budget and Big, Bad Putin

5 February 2015
Reform Work Starts - Energy, Farming and Food on Wish List

26 January 2015
Terror strikes, plenty work, sad memories wait

15 January 2015
Watching AKB, Eating Mochi, Spending JPY 96 Trillion - Japan Off to Better 2015 After So-So 2014

About the Columnist

The columnist is a Japan veteran among Finnish business, our Chamber ex-president and today Member of the Board of Trustees.
After running a major Finnish industry company's Japan business for over 20 years, he is now Senior Associate in a strategic consulting company.

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