No sooner had Japan’s opposition parties proffered their unity in the midst of the national emergency following last week’s powerful earthquake than the same players were resuming the finger pointing and sniping of old, nipping cheers over bipartisan cooperation in the bud and showing why Japan and other regional democracies have been at a standstill.
Initially there was reason for optimism that the political landscape could have been fundamentally altered after the magnitude of the catastrophe became more obvious to all. Amid what Tokyo has called the worst calamity to hit the nation since World War II, the Democratic Party of Japan and its main rival, the Liberal Democratic Party, decided to put differences aside and agreed to discuss an emergency tax increase to fund disaster relief.
As related bills must be passed by April 1 to ensure the swift implementation of the massive relief package that will be required for reconstruction, such unity was essential, and on Sunday Japan’s second-largest opposition party, the New Komeito, said it was also willing to cooperate.
This contrasted sharply with the situation on Friday, where hours before the magnitude 8.9 earthquake hit off the east coast of Japan, sparking a major tsunami, both opposition parties were calling for the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, seen as deeply unpopular and accused of illegally receiving campaign funds.
That came after weeks of political skirmishing that had prevented Kan — the fifth prime minister in Japan since 2006 — from crafting policies to fund the rising costs of a fast-ageing society, curb public debt twice the size of the economy and spur growth as the population shrinks.
Sunday’s unity, therefore, was reason for hope that parties would put their differences aside long enough to deal with the aftermath of the tsunami and the risks of a meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station.
Sadly, even the likely 10,000-plus casualties were insufficient to make unity last, and hours later sniping resumed, this time over the Japanese government’s handling of the catastrophe and allegations that it had briefly covered up the threat emanating from the nuclear power station.
No wonder Japan has fallen behind and lost its dynamism of old, rife as it is with seeming unbridgeable divisions and endless infighting for short-term political gain. If a major catastrophe such as the one that hit on the weekend can only provide a brief hiatus in habitual sniping, then there is little reason not to believe that a few weeks hence Japan will return to its state of stupor, unable to make the contributions to the region that such a power should be making.
The quake will recede into memory, but the challenges to the region, from future natural catastrophes to the uncertainties created by China’s rise, will not disappear. Only when politicians put an end to their juvenile pitched battles, roll up their sleeves and strive toward a clearly defined goal can those challenges be met and surmounted.
Taiwan, which faces challenges of its own, has fared little better, and possibly even worse, than has Japan in terms of summoning unity in the face of natural crises. More often than not, its political forces have been divided and are canceling each other out for sheer political gain — usually the next local or national elections.
We should all bear in mind that future crises, from Chinese expansionism to the forces of nature, do not face such internal divisions and take advantage of factionalism in others.
On Friday, Mother Nature provided us yet another reminder of the risks of disunity. Will we ever learn?
An outrageous dismissal of the exemplary Taiwanese fight against COVID-19 has been perpetrated by the EU. There is no excuse. I presume that everyone who reads the Taipei Times knows that the EU has excluded Taiwan from its so-called “safe list,” which permits citizens unhindered travel to and from the countries of the EU. As the EU does not feel that it needs to explain the character of this exclusive list, perhaps we should examine it ourselves in some detail. There are 14 nations on the list that have been chosen as safe countries of origin and safe countries of destination for
Filmmakers in Taiwan used to struggle when it came to telling a story that could resonate internationally. Things started to change when the 2017 drama series The Teenage Psychic (通靈少女), a collaboration between HBO Asia and Taiwanese Public Television Service (PTS), became a huge hit not just locally, but also internationally. The coming-of-age story was adapted from the 2013 PTS-produced short film The Busy Young Psychic (神算). Entirely filmed in Taiwan, the Mandarin-language series even made it on HBO’s streaming platforms in the US. It is proof that a well-told Taiwanese story can absolutely win the hearts and minds of hard-to-please
Drugged with sedatives, handcuffed and wearing a bright orange prison tunic, British fraud investigator and former journalist Peter Humphrey was escorted by warders into an interrogation room filled with reporters, locked inside a steel cage and fastened to a metal “tiger chair.” Humphrey recalls: “I was completely surrounded by officers, dazed, manacled and with cameras pointing at me through the bars. I was fighting for my life like a caged animal. It was horrifying.” Footage from the interrogation was later artfully edited to give the appearance of a confession and broadcast on Chinese state media. While this might sound like an
The US House of Representatives on July 1 passed by unanimous consent a bipartisan bill that would penalize Chinese officials who implement Beijing’s new national security legislation in Hong Kong, as well as banks that do business with them. The following day, the US Senate unanimously passed the bill, which was later sent to the White House, where it awaits US President Donald Trump’s signature. The bill does not spell out what the sanctions would look like and Trump has yet to sign it into law, but Reuters on Thursday last week reported that five major Chinese state lenders are considering