Economist 7/18/16

  1. This week, came news that the 82-year-old Emperor of Japan Akihito would like to retire.The reign of his father, Hirohito, coincided with Japan’s transformation from militarist empire to modern economic powerhouse. Akihito’s own reign since 1989 oversaw a period of gentle economic decline and diminished capacities.Now pneumonia, prostate cancer and heart surgery have weakened him.A law must first be passed to allow Akihito to step down—nothing like this has happened in modern times. As for his son and successor, Prince Naruhito, he may struggle in the role. The royals are virtual prisoners of the Imperial Household Agency, the gnomic bureaucracy that runs the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy. It has treated Naruhito’s wife, Masako, a former diplomat, as an imperial birthing machine, and she has grappled with depression.
  2. THIS spring the world’s first Hello Kitty-themed train began service in Taiwan. It proved so popular that almost all the head-rest covers on the seats were snaffled by passengers on the first day. Last week EVA Air, Taiwan’s second-largest airline, announced that it would increase the number of Hello Kitty flights to Paris.The craze is about more than infantile consumerism: Hello Kitty has become an unlikely token of Taiwanese identity. She is part of a wider embrace of Japan’s kawaii, or “cuteness”, culture. And this is a way for the Taiwanese to define themselves as different from China, which lays claim to their island, by cleaving to Japan, their former coloniser.The obsession is thought to have been started by McDonald’s, a fast-food chain, which gave out Hello Kitty toys with its meals in August 1999. Its supply of half a million toys ran out in just four hours. Later that year Chunghwa Telecom sold out of 50,000 telephone cards within five minutes of making them available.
  3. THE murder on July 10th of Kem Ley, an independent-minded commentator who castigated the ruling party and the opposition alike, has jangled nerves ahead of local elections next year and a general election the year after in Cambodia.Mr Ley criticised politicians in general, but he singled out Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) for particular contempt.Shortly before his death Mr Ley had spoken at length about the Global Witness report which claimed that the prime minister’s family had acquired assets worth at least $200m, in one of the poorest countries in Asia.Mr Hun Sen’s relatives have vilified the report.A Nazi-style cartoon depicting America, Britain and Russia as threats to peace in Cambodia began circulating on social media, with local English-language newspapers and Global Witness portrayed as villains.Mr Hun Sen and his party are facing their toughest test. Attitudes have changed a lot since the civil war ended. A younger, more educated generation has grown up. Two-thirds of Cambodia’s 16m people are under 30. In the most recent general election, in 2013, many voted for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. Since then many of its politicians have been beaten up, jailed and sued.
  4. The Permanent Court of Arbitration, an international tribunal in The Hague, has declared China’s “historic claims” in the South China Sea invalid. It was an unexpectedly wide-ranging and clear-cut ruling, and it has enraged China.The case was brought by the Philippines in 2013, after China grabbed control of a reef, called Scarborough Shoal, about 220 miles (350km) north-west of Manila.China claims it has such rights in the South China Sea, and that they long predate the current international system. Chinese seafarers, the government says, discovered and named islands in the region centuries ago. It says the country also has ancestral fishing rights.These rights are said to exist within a “nine-dash line.It is a tongue-shaped claim that slurps more than 1,500km down from the southern coast of China and laps up almost all the South China Sea.
  5. The court comprehensively rejected China’s view of things, ruling that only claims consistent with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) were valid. Under UNCLOS, which came into force in 1982 and which China ratified in 1996, maritime rights derive from land, not history. Countries may claim an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) up to 200 nautical miles (370km) off their coasts, or around islands. Based on this, the tribunal ruled that the nine-dash line had no standing. The judges wrote that there was “no legal basis” for China to claim historic rights within it. UNCLOS, they said, took precedence.The court ruled that China had been building on rocks that were visible only at low tide, and hence not eligible to claim territorial waters.China refused to take any part in the court’s proceedings and said it would not “accept, recognise or execute” the verdict.It is thought unlikely that China would quit UNCLOS: that would reinforce the impression that China is a law unto itself and do grave damage to its global image.More likely is that it will set up an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea, like the one it declared over the East China Sea in 2013 after a spat with Japan over islands there.
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