Friday, December 03, 2004

Emails prove ties among military services, defense and Congress...

"Everyone's nervous," Acting Undersecretary of Defense
Michael W. Wynne warned in a confidential e-mail to Air
Force Secretary James G. Roche on July 8, 2003.

It was two days before the Bush administration was to
send its first detailed report to Congress about a
controversial Air Force plan to lease refueling tankers
from the Boeing Co., and a few days after a fierce
backroom struggle over its language between critics of
the plan and Air Force enthusiasts.

[To read the article, click the title]

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Asia is THE target market for luxury brands! Why?

Seven years of economic woe may have taught Asia's
zealous shoppers some restraint but, with economies
picking up, they are again flocking to luxury goods
stores, only this time with a more discerning eye.

As disposable incomes nudge the record highs of the
mid-90s Asian boom years, consumers have spurned the
spend, spend spend attitude for a more choosy approach
towards the finer things in life.

"The market is more mature now, people are not just
throwing money at the most expensive thing; they have
learned and they are choosing wisely," says Simon Tam,
wine consultant with the Cafe Deco Group chain of bars
and restaurants in Hong Kong.

"They are investing in quality as opposed to the things
they think they should be buying."

Asia is THE target market for luxury brands, accounting
for more sales than any other region, including Europe
and the United States.

For instance, half of Switzerland's eight billion
dollars of annual watch exports come here.

"The barometer of how well a (newly launched) watch will
do depends on two key markets, Asia and Italy,"
Singapore's Sincere Watch executive vice-president Ong
Ban tells AFP.

"If it can do well in these two major markets, it will
usually do well in other parts of the world."

Asia's numbers are huge. For France's LVMH, the world's
largest luxury goods maker and parent of brands such as
Louis Vuitton and Veuve Clicquot, 40 percent of world
sales are generated here. For shoe label Gucci it's 45

Still heading demand is Japan, which for some brands
accounts for a third of global sales.

Although economic problems have cast a shadow over the
past 15 years, designer labels are still investing
heavily. Among them is French retailer Chanel, which
will open a 240-million-dollar flagship store in Tokyo
on December 2 on the famous Ginza avenue, just near
Cartier's building.

"Chanel's revenue in Japan is three times more than in
France," said Richard Colasse, CEO of Chanel Japan.

If mobile phones were icon of the last boom, this one is
likely to be characterised by the smell of cigar smoke.

"In the last year dozens of humidors have opened
throughout Hong Kong -- and all the hotels I speak to
are busy putting together cigar and brandy deals in
their bars," says Andrew Dembina, editor of the newly
launched Cigar Cutter magazine, aimed at Asia's new
generation of stogie chompers. "You didn't see that

"The market is also different in that consumers are no
longer simply buying Cuban cigars because they are the
most expensive. Like the early days of new world wines
people are experimenting and sourcing cheaper cigars of
equal quality from other parts of the world."

Huge changes have been seen in the luxury travel market,
with travellers opting more for private flight charters
in the wake of the September 11, 2001 US terror attacks.
They are also demanding more value for money and healthy

"Guests are getting younger, they are asking for more
for their money and they want more than just gyms," said
a spokeswoman for Hong Kong's Peninsula Hotel, one of
the most luxurious in Asia.

"Guests are indulging themselves still, but they are
doing it with the family or as couples."

Some things, however, are so luxurious that their
attraction remains unaffected by mere economics.

Rolls Royce sells some 15 percent of its bespoke
limousines to Asian customers. Its Phantom model,
released last year, is the most expensive car the
100-year old company has ever produced.

"We launched it during SARS but it still sold as
expected -- about 1,000 a year -- because super-luxury
goods avoid the cyclical nature of economics," Colin
Kelly, the brand's regional director, tells AFP.

While Hong Kong no longer possesses more "Rollers" than
anywhere else, Kelly says the honour has not gone far.

"China is probably up there now -- 25 percent of our
Asian sales go to China now," says Kelly.

If the traditional Asian markets are maturing, the
Chinese luxury market is still in its formative stage --
and revelling in conspicuous spending.

Analysts expect growth in the world's most populous
country to boost Asia's share of world luxury sales to
60 percent.

"Chinese people have no qualms about rewarding
themselves for their success," says Rolls Royce's Kelly.
"It's natural for them to show off their success."

Shanghai's Nanjing Road is proof of the revolution.
Along the metropolis's Fifth Avenue, the titans of
Western luxury have replaced once shabby shops with chic

Christian Dior, which has been in China since 1998,
recently doubled its presence in the elite Plaza 66 mall
and is planning to set up Dior Hommes in December
alongside Prada, Cartier and Gucci. And Italian Ferrari
opened its first office in this September.

"Chinese have expressed a great interest in Ferrari and
the lifestyle that we represent," said Enrico Mussetto,
a top marketing executive with the firm.

"Our customers are successful people who know how to
take advantage of the economic growth that China has to
offer," Musseto said.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Covering Japan's Royals, according to Tony Mac Nicol

[This article is interesting in describing a certain
impression generally spread in the western media about
the crude reaction to press covering the Imperial
family. The blog's owner does not necessarily agree with
the author of the OJR]

"The Imperial family is in crisis, but that's often hard
to tell from Japanese media reports on royalty.
Conservative editorial policies, self-censorship and the
threat of right-wing intimidation prevent the media from
opening a proper debate on the Chrysanthemum Throne's
role in modern Japan.

by Tony Mc Nicol.

Many observers believe that interest in the Japanese
Imperial Household is at an all-time low. The emperor
and his family are often compared to civil servants --
and they are just about as glamorous. Few in number and
entirely supported by the state, generally they are left
to smile, wave and cut ribbons without too much
attention from the press or public.

All the same, in recent months the royal household has
been getting a bit more publicity than it's used to --
and unusually bad publicity at that. The popular Crown
Princess Masako, under pressure to bear an heir to the
Chrysanthemum Throne, reportedly suffered a nervous
breakdown and wasn't seen in public for months until two
brief appearances in September. (The palace also
released video of her playing happily with her only
daughter, Princess Aiko.) In May her husband, Crown
Prince Naruhito, stunned the press and public by using a
routine press conference to allocate blame for his
wife's illness and make a thinly veiled attack on
Imperial Household Agency bureaucrats.

The Japanese Imperial family is undergoing a quiet
crisis. In the short-term it seems likely that the rules
will have to be changed to allow Princess Aiko to one
day become empress. A long-term problem is that, if not
actively disliked, more and more the Imperial family is
simply ignored. Some commentators believe that public
indifference to the Imperial family is the result of its
growing irrelevance to modern Japan. They say it needs
to find a new role for itself before the Japanese public
loses interest completely.

In other constitutional monarchies one might expect that
role to be discussed through the media -- or if the
monarchy really is so irrelevant, questions about
whether the royals are actually needed at all. But there
is precious little sign of that. Instead, reports
largely skim the surface of events, refusing to delve
into more profound and troublesome issues.

Take an article in the June 10 edition of the weekly
Shukan Bunshun. The five-page report promised to look
"behind the Chrysanthemum curtain" and listed "10 taboo
topics" of the Imperial Household, including: "What is
the real cause of Princess Masako's illness?" and "What
is the budget of the Imperial palace?" Even, "Why
doesn't the Crown Prince drive?" and "How good is
Princess Masako at cooking?"

What was noticeable by their absence in the list,
however, were the biggest taboos of all: Namely, any
real criticism of the royal family or questioning of the
role of the institution itself.

Jun Kamei, a writer and teacher who spent 21 years
working for the Shukan Shichou tabloid weekly, points
out that 60 or so years might have passed since people
could be executed for criticizing the emperor, but old
habits die hard. "Freedom of speech and expression are
recognized," he says. "But all the same, those unwritten
rules are left over."

"Not one reporter ever asked Emperor Hirohito about his
responsibility for the war in Asia, potentially one of
the great stories of the last half century." -- David
McNeill, Japan Focus

"(It is) corporate censorship, or self-censorship by the
media," says Kenichi Asano, a professor of journalism
and mass communications at Doshisha University in Kyoto.
Along with the Yakuza organized crime networks, the
Imperial family is the big taboo subject for the
Japanese media.

Few journalists are brave enough to step out of line, he
says. "The top-ranking people in the press are mostly
close to the LDP (the ruling Liberal Democratic Party).
Young journalists know also that if they write something
to criticize the emperor system, they will lose their

During his 22 years at Kyodo News, Asano doggedly
refused to use special honorific terms (such as adding
"sama" to the end of a royal's name) when he wrote about
members of the Imperial family. "Always my editors
complained, 'You are against the Kyodo stylebook.' And I
told them, 'No, you are against the constitution.'" His
editors added the honorifics anyway.

A further psychological constraint on those
contemplating lese majesty is the threat of violence
from right-wing groups.

"As long as you don't say anything to resist the system,
it is calm and nothing happens," says Asano. But Japan's
journalists know the stories of those who dare to break
the unwritten rules. In June 2000 Yasunori Okadome, the
editor of a now defunct weekly magazine, Uwasa no
Shinso, received an unexpected visit from two members of
a right-wing organization. After clubbing him over the
head with a glass ashtray, they stabbed him for
neglecting to use an honorific when referring to
Princess Masako in an article.

Asano compares the media in Japan with their
counterparts in the United Kingdom. The U.K.'s Guardian
newspaper, a leading left-of-center daily, is openly
anti-monarchy. In December 2000 the paper pinned its
political colors to the mast, arguing in a leader that
Queen Elizabeth's successor should be replaced with an
elected head of state. Such an editorial stance is
unimaginable in Japan, Asano says.

Despite the self-imposed and external constraints,
journalists left with a hot story burning a hole in
their notebooks will often manage to get the news out.
Stories that might cause problems for press club
affiliated publications reach the public through weekly
magazines. Stories that no Japanese publication would
touch sometimes break in the foreign press.

"It's an odd system," says Kamei. "It depends on size
(of the story) ... the larger the story, the further it
will travel."

The media don't just pull punches, on occasion they
don't even bother stepping into the ring. Historic news
stories concerning the Imperial family have been
completely ignored by the major Japanese news
organizations and their thousands of reporters have been
repeatedly scooped by overseas publications in their own
back yard. In 1993 The Washington Post showed up the
Japanese media by breaking news of the engagement of
Masako and Naruhito after it had been embargoed by the
Imperial Household Agency.

It happened again in May of this year. Only after the
London Times revealed that Princess Masako was being
treated for a mental breakdown did the story appear in
the Japanese press. That's not to say Japanese
journalists didn't know about it in the first place,
explains Richard Lloyd Parry, author of the article.
"When we heard this story I talked privately to a number
of Japanese journalists, some of them senior, and they
had all heard about it," he says. "It didn't come as a
surprise to any of them. But none of them would have
dreamt of printing it. They could only do that because
we had."

Actually, the Japanese press may have something of a
guilty conscience over their coverage of Masako. When
the princess became pregnant in 1999, the media provided
enthusiastic and relentless coverage. Masako suffered a
miscarriage and the Imperial Household Agency had harsh
criticism for the press.

The press club system, often described as media cartels
that deny official information to nonmembers, also
discourages royal household reporters from rocking the
boat. As Independent (U.K.) correspondent David McNeill
pointed out in an article for the Japan Focus Web site,
press club members just don't ask the questions their
interviewees won't want to hear. "Not one reporter ever
asked Emperor Hirohito about his responsibility for the
war in Asia, potentially one of the great stories of the
last half century."

What are the chances of the press opening a real debate
on the Imperial Household? That may yet depend on the
depth of the present crisis. On the surface, it looks
like Masako's plight has been a PR catastrophe for the
royal household. Naoki Inose, a writer and media
commentator, says that the Imperial Household's standing
was already weakened before the present crisis. "What is
certain is that (the royal family's) deepest cultural
and psychological role has become diluted (since the
Pacific War)."

He believes that the bureaucrats of the Imperial
Household Agency made a serious mistake by forcing
Masako into a conservative role. At the time of her
marriage to Naruhito, Masako was seen as figure to whom
modern Japanese women could relate. An intelligent and
internationally minded working woman, she was the
Imperial family's chance to renew itself for the times.
Reportedly, Masako turned down the prince several times
before being persuaded that she could continue her
diplomatic work as a member of the Imperial Family.

But not everyone agrees that the Imperial institution
has actually been weakened. Asano suggests that the
strength of taboos concerning reporting of the royal
family is evidence of the system's strength. "Many
Japanese intellectuals and journalists say that the
emperor system is getting weaker, (that it is) in
crisis," he says. "I don't think so at all." Sometimes
he jokingly tells students who think the Imperial
Household has no connection with modern Japanese society
that they should start a demonstration outside the old
palace in Kyoto -- then wait to see what kind of
reaction they get from the police.

It's not easy to gauge Japanese affection for individual
royals or for the institution, not least because no
newspaper would dare to measure unpopularity. All the
same, most commentators seem to agree that interest has
been declining quite steadily since the end of the
Pacific War.

The public's apparent indifference might be a reflection
of the isolated lives of the Imperial Family. They are
entirely supported by the state and have no assets of
their own. They seem to live in a suffocatingly small
social world. As Lloyd Parry of the London Times puts
it, "They carry all the burdens of royalty without any
of the perks."

They also have far fewer opportunities to be involved
with charitable work than other royal families. The Web
site of Prince Charles, the heir to the U.K. throne,
states that the prince is president or patron of 363
charities. The Japanese prince's site lists just one
permanent post, the Japanese Red Cross.

Several commentators have described the prince's recent
outburst to the media as "a second declaration of
humanity," comparing it to his grandfather's
renunciation of divinity after the close of World War

Few Japanese today consider the emperor to be a god, but
it's possible that few members of the public or media
relate to the Imperial Family as human beings, either.
As Jun Kamei comments, "I think (the crown prince) was
probably saying, 'I'm a human. My wife's a human, too"."
(Story modified on Sept. 24, 2004)

Monday, November 29, 2004

Firm eyes sale of Japanese military plane abroad

Anticipating a shift in government policy on arms
exports, a company is gearing up to sell to overseas
buyers aircraft used solely by the Self-Defense Forces,
according to sources to the Asahi shimbun.

ShinMaywa Industries Ltd. has been supplying the
Maritime SDF with its US-1A short-takeoff-and-landing
amphibian plane since 1974.

An upgraded version of the search-and-rescue aircraft,
the US-1A Kai, has drawn interest from overseas for its
potential to be refitted to fight wildfires.

It is not the first time.

Controversy erupted in the 1970s over whether the plane
could be exported to the United States. Opposition
parties then raised questions in the Diet about the
nature of the military aircraft, claiming it could not
be exported under the government ban on weapons export.

The government ruled in 1975 that since the US-1A would
not be used directly in combat, it was exempt from the
ban. ShinMaywa decided at the time, however, not to
export the aircraft.

But times have changed.

The government's recent plans to ease the arms-export
ban for joint U.S.-Japan missile defense and weapons
production has apparently set the stage for ShinMaywa to
reconsider selling the planes overseas.

It would be the first time a domestic aircraft used by
the SDF was sold abroad.

The MSDF currently maintains seven US-1A aircraft at its
Iwakuni base. The planes are not armed.

The upgraded US-1A Kai will eventually take over the
search-and-rescue roles of its predecessor for the MSDF.

The improved version will have a higher flying altitude,
greater speed and longer flying distance. Development of
the US-1A Kai began in 1996. Its first prototype was
delivered to the Defense Agency in March.

ShinMaywa officials said the fuel tank on the US-1A Kai
can be modified to allow the aircraft to scoop up to 15
tons of water from a lake or ocean to drop on fires.

The company has received inquiries from European
nations, such as France and Greece, as well as the
United States, its officials said.

A model was displayed at Britain's Farnborough Air Show
in July.

ShinMaywa has begun discussions with the Ministry of
Land, Infrastructure and Transport to get the documents
needed to allow private-sector sales.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

North Korean Missile Taepo Dong Ready for Testing

The CIA posted the unclassified version of its report to
Congress on weapons of mass destruction:

North Korea is nearly self-sufficient in developing and
producing ballistic missiles and continues to procure
needed raw materials and components from various foreign

In the second half of 2003, North Korea continued to
abide by its voluntary moratorium on flight tests
adopted in 1998 but announced it may reconsider its
September 2002 offer to continue the moratorium beyond

The multiple-stage Taepo Dong-2- potentially capable of
reaching parts of the United States with a
nuclear-weapon-sized payload-may be ready for

[Click the tittle to get the CIA report]

British army to protect Japan's forces in Iraq ? Not so fast!

Japan has asked the British army to help protect its
troops in southern Iraq after Dutch soldiers withdraw
from the area in March next year.

Japanese and British generals have held discussions, but
Britain has so far not promised to send troops to the
area, the daily Asahi Shimbun said without citing

Japan has about 550 troops in the southern Iraq city of
Samawa, but its pacifist constitution limits their
activities to aid and reconstruction, including
providing fresh water.

Dutch troops from a nearby base currently maintain
security in Samawa, but the Dutch government has decided
to withdraw the troops in March. Dutch Defence Minister
Henk Kamp is set to meet Japanese officials this week to
explain the decision.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, a close ally of U.S.
President George W. Bush, is widely expected to extend
Japan's own mission beyond its initial deadline of
December 14, although no official announcement has been

Newspaper polls indicate a majority of the electorate
want the troops to return home in December.

Katsuya Okada, leader of Japan's main opposition
Democratic Party, has called on Koizumi to explain the
extension, rather than make the decision at a cabinet
meeting after parliament goes into recess.

"If he extends the mission without doing so, he cannot
get away with it as a politician and as a human being,"
Kyodo news agency quoted him as saying in a speech in
Shiga prefecture on Saturday.

Defence chief Yoshinori Ono has expressed expectations
of British help in Iraq if the troops stay on, the Asahi

"Britain is in control of the entire southern region, so
if necessary we will hold full discussions with Britain
and have them maintain security."

If Britain does not send troops to Samawa, Japan will be
forced to rely on Iraqi troops for security, the Asahi

Japan's defence ministry fears the focus of local
people's resentment could switch from Dutch troops to
the Japanese after March, the Asahi said, citing a
ministry official. The Japanese camp has been hit by
rocket shells, but there have been no casualties so far.