Japanese Journalist Held Hostage in Syria 

20151223 nusra

The Japanese government is seeking information after reports a Japanese freelance journalist is being held hostage in Syria and has been threatened with execution, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Thursday.

“Given the nature of the matter, I would like to refrain from commenting on details.”

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said this week it had received information that an armed group holding journalist Yasuda Jumpei hostage had started a countdown for an unspecified ransom to be paid and had threatened to execute or sell him to another group if their demands were not met.

“The safety of our citizens is an important responsibility of the government, so we are making every effort and making full use of various information networks.”

— Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga

RSF said in a statement on its website that Yasuda was kidnapped in July by an armed group in an area controlled by the militant Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s Syria wing, shortly after entering Syria earlier that month.

It urged the Japanese government to do what was needed to save Yasuda. Suga said the Japanese government knew of the case but was not aware of any fresh developments.

“Given the nature of the matter, I would like to refrain from commenting on details,” he told a regular news conference. Read the rest of this entry »


Did Japan Botch ISIS Hostage Deal?

abe-speaking

The country’s ISIS hostage crisis is a tragedy—one that its government helped to create. Is the Abe administration more concerned with saving face than saving lives?

TOKYO — Jake Adelstein writes: ISIS says it will kill two Japanese hostages if the Japanese government fails to pay a $200 million ransom  by 12:50 a.m. ET Friday. But The Daily Beast has learned that the current crisis might have been averted last year if the Japanese government had not interfered in negotiations to save the first hostage captured by the terrorist group. Indeed, even now Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration seems more interested in saving face than saving lives.ISIS, which has already executed thousands of Iraqis and Syrians, as well as international aid workers and reporters, captured Haruna Yukawa, the founder of a private security company, in northern Syria in August 2014. The next month, the group asked Japanese journalist Kosuke Tsuneoka to mediate the trial it was planning to stage against Yukawa, 42, whom it suspected of being a spy.japanese-hostages

Tsuneoka, who was held hostage in 2010 in Afghanistan and is one of the few Japanese journalists with a pipeline to ISIS, told The Daily Beast last year that the group invited him and Japanese Muslim scholar Hassan Ko Nakata to follow the trial as an Arabic translator.

“There has been some speculation in Japan that the government’s inaction leading up to the release of the hostage video was an attempt to deepen the country’s involvement in the fight against ISIS and justify its remilitarization. Since last year, Abe and his Cabinet have been pushing for a reinterpretation of Japan’s pacifist constitution under the guise of ‘collective self-defense’ that would allow Japan to go to war with its allies…”

But Tsuneoka said he and Nakata were not allowed to travel to Syria to try to negotiate Yukawa’s release after the police raided their homes on October 6, a day before their planned departure, and seized their passports. Tsuneoka was detained for questioning for 24 hours but was not arrested.

abe-japan

“…They also have announced intentions to abolish Article 9, the Japanese constitutional clause that forsakes warfare. These moves have met with widespread opposition among the Japanese but have been downplayed in Japan’s increasingly compliant media.”

Police sources said the raid stemmed from an ongoing police investigation into Tsuneoka’s involvement with a student who may have been attempting to join ISIS. Tsuneoka and the student are under suspicion of violating the rarely enforced Article 93 of Japan’s criminal code, which prohibits “preparing or plotting to wage war privately upon a foreign state”; if arrested, tried, and convicted, the two could face up to five years in prison. Tsuneoka has denied the allegations, though he acknowledges buying an airplane ticket for the student, who had no credit card.

“Now a backlash against the government’s handling of the crisis is growing, with thousands of people tweeting, with some sarcasm, that the prime minister should give himself up to ISIS in exchange for Goto.”

The day after the raid, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that Japan would take measures to “curb extremists.” Japanese nationals would be barred from traveling to Syria, Iraq, or other countries in pursuit of terrorist acts and from offering financial resources to terrorists and extremist groups, in line with domestic law. Read the rest of this entry »


Japan: 6.8 Earthquake Near Nagano City

j-earthquake

TOKYO (AP) — A strong earthquake late Saturday struck a mountainous area of central Japan that hosted the 1998 winter Olympics, knocking down at least 10 homes in a ski resort town and injuring more than 20 people, officials said.

The magnitude-6.8 earthquake struck near Nagano city shortly after 10 p.m. (1300 GMT) at a depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles), the Japan Meteorological Agency said. The U.S. Geological Survey measured the quake’s magnitude at 6.2. Since the quake occurred inland, there was no possibility of a tsunami.

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority said no abnormalities were reported at three nuclear power plants in the affected areas. All of Japan’s nuclear plants are offline following a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and massive tsunami in 2011 that sent three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant into meltdown. Fukushima is about 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of where Saturday’s earthquake occurred.

At least 22 people were injured, three of them seriously, in Nagano city, the Hakuba ski resort and elsewhere, the National Polilce Agency told Japan’s Kyodo news agency.

“We are trying to assess the situation as quickly as possible, and we’ll do our utmost for the rescue of the injured people,” Japan’s top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, told reporters. Read the rest of this entry »


Gunboat Economics: China Seizes Japanese Ship — As Payment for Pre-World War II Debt

chinese_frigate_reuters

(AFP) — Tokyo warned Monday that the seizure of a Japanese ship in Shanghai over pre-war debts threatened ties with China and could undermine the very basis of their diplomatic relationship.

Authorities in Shanghai seized the large freight vessel in a dispute over what the Chinese side says are unpaid bills relating to the 1930s, when Japan occupied large swathes of China.

[ALSO SEE: CHINA ECONOMIC REVIEW: “GUNBOAT ECONOMICS”]

The move is the latest to illustrate the bitter enmity at the heart of Tokyo-Beijing ties, with the two sides embroiled in a dispute over the ownership of a small archipelago and snapping at each other over differing interpretations of history.

Mr Suga said Japan was "deeply concerned" about the seizure of a cargo ship in China

Mr Suga said Japan was “deeply concerned” about the seizure of a cargo ship in China

Shanghai Maritime Court said Saturday it had seized “the vessel Baosteel Emotion owned by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines… for enforcement of an effective judgement” made in December 2007.

“The arrested vessel will be dealt with by the law if Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd. still refuses to perform its obligations,” the court said.

Chinese and Hong Kong media said the seizure was related to a verdict by a court in Shanghai that said Mitsui must pay about 2.9 billion yen ($28 million) in relation to the leasing of two ships nearly 80 years ago. Read the rest of this entry »


Air Chess: China Patrols Air Zone Over Disputed Islands

A Japanese patrol plane, pictured in 2011, flying over the disputed islands in the East China Sea.

A Japanese patrol plane, pictured in 2011, flying over the disputed islands in the East China Sea. Japan Pool, via Jiji Press

BEIJING — Jane Perlez and Martin Fackler report:  China sent fighter jets on the first patrols of its new air defense zone over disputed islands in the East China Sea on Thursday, the state news agency, Xinhua, said.

The patrols followed announcements by Japan and South Korea that their military planes had flown through the zone unhindered by China.

The tit-for-tat flights between China on one side and South Korea and Japan on the other heightened the tensions over the East China Sea where China and Japan are at loggerheads over islands they both claim.

The airspace in the new zone announced by China last week overlaps a similar zone declared by Japan more than 40 years ago. Both zones are over the islands known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

China has said that noncommercial aircraft entering the zone without prior notification would face “defensive emergency measures.”

China would take “relevant measures according to different air threats” to defend the country’s airspace, Xinhua reported.

Read the rest of this entry »


China warns Japan against stationing workers on disputed isles

Vessels from the China Maritime Surveillance and the Japan Coast Guard are seen near disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 10, 2013. Mandatory Credit. Credit: Reuters/Kyodo

Vessels from the China Maritime Surveillance and the Japan Coast Guard are seen near disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 10, 2013.  Credit: Reuters/Kyodo

TOKYO/BEIJING (Reuters) – China said it would not tolerate provocation after Japan’s top government spokesman said on Tuesday Japan might station government workers on disputed islands in the East China Sea to defend its sovereignty. Read the rest of this entry »