Cablegate: Daily Summary of Japanese Press 04/25/08

DE RUEHKO #1153/01 1160816
P 250816Z APR 08





E.O. 12958: N/A



(1) Scanner column: Prime Minister decides to establish "consumer
agency" next fiscal year (Yomiuri)

(2) Prime Minister Fukuda off to Russia today (Sankei)

(3) Serious accident caused by civilian employee of U.S. military
not announced by Aomori prefectural police (Asahi)

(4) Police to send papers today on U.S. serviceman over rape
(Okinawa Times)

(5) Editorial: Mistaken shipment of SRM to Japan too serious to be
brushed off as caused by simple mistake (Mainichi)

(6) Editorial: U.S. beef -- Simple mistake fearful (Tokyo Shimbun)

(7) Editorial: U.S. beef: Do not make beef bowl fans cry (Asahi)


(1) Scanner column: Prime Minister decides to establish "consumer
agency" next fiscal year

YOMIURI (Page 3) (Full)
April 25, 2008

Tomonobu Takenouchi

Prime Minister Fukuda declared he would establish a "consumer
agency" in fiscal 2009 in order to unify administration for consumer
and bolster consumer policy, which falls behind other countries. Can
an improvised agency function effectively? Consumer organizations
assert that the key to whether the new agency can function properly
lies in whether laws and authorities currently placed under the
jurisdiction of each ministry or agency are transferred to the new

"Return my 18-year-old son to me. For whom did the Ministry of
Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) fail to release information on

This remark came from Sachiko Ueshima (54), when she spoke before a
gathering hosted by the Unica Net (Unica stands for Unification of
Consumer Administration) in Tokyo on April 22. The Unica Net is
composed of some 45 consumer organizations across the country.

Ueshima lost her second son in November 2005 from carbon monoxide

poisoning caused by a water heater manufactured by Paloma
Industries. METI knew a similar accident occurred in succession, but
it failed to take any preventive measures.

The gathering was also taken part in by families of victims who died
from eating tainted gelatin or died in elevator accidents. One
victim family member claimed: "In order to prevent a recurrence of a
similar tragedy, an administrative body to address prevention of
accidents needs to be established."

On April 23, Prime Minister Fukuda unusually assumed a top-down
approach and decided to launch a consumer agency before the Council
for Promotion of Consumer Administration, a panel of experts,

TOKYO 00001153 002 OF 009

releases its final conclusion. He did so, bearing in mind the rising
public criticism of bureaucratic sectionalism, as well as the
public's strong interest in safety and security.

According to the policy announced by Fukuda, the new consumer agency
will handle all consumer-related problems, for instance, commodities
and monetary transactions, safety and labeling of food and products.
The agency will engage in consumer policy-planning, enforce law, and
give recommendations to firms and other ministries and agencies. It
will serve as a control tower for consumer administration.

The Japan Housewives' Association's Secretary-General Mariko Sano
noted: "We give high marks to (the prime minister's stance) of
promoting reform. We hope the consumer agency will be launched as
quickly as possible, but we don't want it to be improvised. We hope
the agency will be given strong authority and function

Attention from now on is likely to be focused on how much
consumer-related laws and authorities now placed under the
jurisdiction of more than one ministry or agency, for instance, the
Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, and the Ministry of Financial
Services, will be transferred to the new consumer agency.

The Unica Net's Representative Sanae Hara said: "In order to
implement a unified policy, at least 28 laws, such as the Specific
Commodity Exchange Law now under the jurisdiction of METI, and the
Law for the Prevention of Unreasonable Premiums and
Misrepresentation concerning Products and Service under the
jurisdiction of the Fair Trade Committee, should be transferred to
the new consumer agency."

At a hearing held early April by the Council for the Promotion of
Consumer Administration, however, ministries and agencies whose
authorities will be reduced are opposed to the transfer of their
authorities. One official argued: "Expertise we have cultivated so
far will be essential. Government officials in charge of industrial
promotion, (such as METI), is capable of consumer administration."

In addition to the unification of authorities, how to strengthen
on-the-spot consumer administration is another big challenge. The
consumer administration-related budget in local municipalities
amounted to some 10.8 billion yen in fiscal 2007. The figure was
down by half from fiscal 1995. Most consultants at consumer service
centers are nonregular workers, and their status is unstable.

Koichi Hosokawa, associate professor (of consumer policy) at Japan
Women's University, said: "The Japanese administration system has
given the highest priority to nurturing industries. Can this system
be changed? Unifying consumer administration is a global trend."

(2) Prime Minister Fukuda off to Russia today

SANKEI (Page 2) (Excerpts)
April 25, 2008

Keiichi Takagi

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda will depart for Russia today on a
three-day schedule. He is to meet separately with President Putin,
who is to step down shortly, as well as president-elect Medvedev
(currently First Deputy Prime Minister). A challenge for Japan in

TOKYO 00001153 003 OF 009

its diplomacy toward Russia is how to restart Northern Territories
negotiations, which had been in effect forced into a stalemate in
the days of the Koizumi and Abe administrations. Fukuda plans to
orchestrate a stage to conclude a peace treaty with Russia under the
banner of upgrading bilateral ties to a higher level, but Japan's
"one-sided love" to Russia in terms of the Northern Territories is
unlikely to change so suddenly. Can the prime minister's trip to
Russia mark a breakthrough for him to draw Russia into a game of
endurance that envisions an "exit" of the game, namely, the signing
of a peace treaty?

New game of endurance starts over Northern Territories

A senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) stressed
the importance of the prime minister's visit to Russia by noting:
"It will serve as a springboard for Japan and Russia to address the
territory issue from a medium and long-term perspective."

Tomorrow, Fukuda is scheduled to have the first meeting with
President Putin and president-elect Medvedev. In the session, they
are expected to reaffirm the policy of rebuilding the bilateral
relationship into a higher level one, as well as strengthening
cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. They are also expected to
reach an accord on cooperation in the area of energy development in
the Far Eastern region's of Siberia.

In 1998 in the days of the Yeltsin government, Russia joined the
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, but Russia's interest has
been limited to military affairs since the days of the former Soviet
Union. The environment surrounding Russia, however, has now changed.
Russia has been under pressure from the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) for its expansion policy toward the east, while
its Far Eastern region of Siberia is suffering a sharp drop in the
population and economic collapse and the region is also exposed to
two threats: China's expansionism and a possible wildcat move by
North Korea.

Japan's strategy toward Russia is how to have Russia committed to
act as a major player in the region and to use such commitment as
leverage to resolve the territorial issue.

Japan's approach at present is in line with its policy taken since
1989, when it turned around its previous fundamental policy of
inseparability of politics from economics. But the current approach
is somewhat different from its past "exit" argument, under which
Japan saw Russia snatch only economic aid from Japan, partly because
an environment is being prepared for Japan and Russia to seek a
common ground for them to mutually complement each other in the
Asia-Pacific region.

This, however, does not mean that there is any bright prospect for
the Northern Territories negotiations. Putin has expressed his
eagerness to conclude a peace treaty with Japan, but he at the same
time indicated his intention not to return even a single island of
the disputed Northern Territories. Medvedev, who is seen as a
liberal, is likewise a patriotic politician. A diplomatic source
takes a view about him: "He will assume a much tougher line to avoid
being condemned as being weak-kneed by a group attaching priority to
armed struggles.

With the Russian side seeing the weak position of the Fukuda
administration under the divided Diet, a source familiar with

TOKYO 00001153 004 OF 009

Japan-Russia relations made this comment: "The unstable political
situation in Japan could give Russia an opportunity to prepare its
excuse." But an ex-cabinet member of the ruling Liberal Democratic
Party said firmly: "Should Japan put aside the territorial issue, it
would mean the end of Japanese diplomacy."

Can both sides, whose positions are conflicting, make efforts and
obtain results satisfying both sides? What should Russia do in order
to get a true fruit? We hope the prime minister's tour of Russia
will serve as the first step to let the Kremlin realize the answer
to that question is one.

Moscow interested solely in economic affairs?

When Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is visiting Russia, a large Russian
economic delegation from the Russian city of St. Petersburg, from
which President Putin comes, will be sent to Japan on a four-day
schedule starting on April 25. Backed by Putin, the Russia appears
to aim to further approach Japan in the economic area, but it is not
much interested in signing a peace treaty with Japan. Its positive
approach to Japan is thus unlikely to lead directly to resolving the
territory issue.

The above economic delegation of some 50 business leaders is led by
St. Petersburg Mayor Matviyenko, who is close to Putin. The
delegation is to fly from the city to Tokyo on the first direct
flight in liner service opened by Russia's major airline company
Transaero Airlines. The delegation will make an appeal for business
opportunities to the Japanese side and attend an economic
development conference with Japan.

(3) Serious accident caused by civilian employee of U.S. military
not announced by Aomori prefectural police

April 25, 2008

It has been learned that a civilian employee working at the U.S.
military's Shariki Communications Site in Tsugaru City, Aomori
Prefecture - where the X-Band Radar is deployed as an early warning
facility against incoming ballistic missiles - was involved in an
automobile accident with another car in the same city last year in
April, with a male riding in the other car suffering a serious
injury. Although the prefectural police in principle announce the
occurrence of accidents involving serious injuries, they did not do
so in this case.

According to an informed source, last year in April, the automobile
of the civilian employee crashed into a car it was trying to
overtake and pass. A male riding in the car in front suffered a
serious injury, with fractured ribs and vertebrae. The police last
August sent forward papers (to the prosecutors) charging the
civilian employee with the crime of professional negligence
resulting in bodily injury.

In response to coverage of this story by Asahi Shimbun, the
prefectural police explained: "We heard that the accident involved a
light injury. It appears that the accident was below the standard of
having to be announced."

Last October in Aomori Prefecture, a U.S. serviceman stationed at
Misawa Air Base, while driving under the influence of alcohol,

TOKYO 00001153 005 OF 009

committed a hit-and-run offense. This March, papers were sent
forward (to the prosecutors), but the prefectural police did not
announce this. On the other hand, papers were sent forward on April
23 charging a civilian employee working at the Shariki
Communications Site with the crime of stealing into the residence of
a female in Tsugaru City. In this case, the police announced the
move, stating that "there was high interest by the neighbors" in
this case.

(4) Police to send papers today on U.S. serviceman over rape

OKINAWA TIMES (Page 29) (Full)
April 25, 2008

Okinawa prefectural police will send papers to prosecutors today on
a U.S. Army corporal in his 20s for an alleged rape resulting in
bodily injury. The corporal allegedly raped a Philippine woman in
the city of Okinawa. In addition, the police will also send papers
the same day to prosecutors on two U.S. Marines on a charge of
robbery resulting in bodily injury. The two Marines are alleged to
have robbed a taxicab driver of money on a street in the same city
in 2006. The three U.S. servicemen are currently in the U.S.
military's custody and expected to be turned over to Japanese police
authorities after they are indicted.

The rape incident took place this February at a hotel in the city of
Okinawa. The corporal, who was assigned to a surface-to-air guided
missile (PAC-3) unit at the U.S. Air Force's Kadena base, is
suspected of raping a Philippine woman. The victim was found by one
of the hotel staff when she was slumped in the hotel's lobby, and
she was carried on an ambulance to a hospital. Her acquaintance
reported the incident to the police. The police asked the victim and
her acquaintances about what happened to her. At the same time, the
police conducted an on-the-spot inspection of a hotel room and other

The robbery case occurred in July 2006 on a street in the city of
Okinawa. Two foreign men allegedly held up a male cabdriver in his
taxi and took several tens of thousands of yen from customers and
his wallet containing about 300 dollars.

The Okinawa Police Station collected samples in the taxi to identify
the criminal, according to investigative authorities. The police
checked them with other samples from Marines who were booked in
another incident, and those samples were identified with the two
Marines. The two have admitted to the allegations, the police said.
The Okinawa Police Station asked the U.S. military's investigative
authorities for cooperation and is now investigating the case.

(5) Editorial: Mistaken shipment of SRM to Japan too serious to be
brushed off as caused by simple mistake

MAINICHI (Page 5) (Full)
April 25, 2008

Yoshinoya Holdings Co., which has served beef bowls on a 24-hour
basis again, discovered at its meat-processing factory spinal
columns in beef imported from the United States. Spinal columns are
specified as a specified risk material (SRM) for BSE and required to
be completely removed in shipments bound for Japan under a bilateral
accord. In response, the government has decided to ban the import of
beef products from the meat-processing plant in California that

TOKYO 00001153 006 OF 009

shipped the beef in question.

After the first case of BSE was reported in the U.S. in December
2003, the government completely banned imports of U.S. beef. In
December 2005, Japan lifted the ban, setting the requirements of
exporting only beef from cattle 20 months of age or younger and
removing SRMs.

Only a month later, however, Japan re-imposed a total ban on U.S.
beef imports following a discovery of vertebral columns in a meat
shipment. After ascertaining that workers at meat-processing plants
in the U.S. are properly aware of the safety criteria set up for
beef exports bound for Japan and that they are observing the
criteria, Japan resumed U.S. beef imports in July 2006.

While Japan banned imports of U.S. beef, Yoshinoya had to suspend
serving beef bowels. Yoshinoya has served again beef bowls on a
24-hour basis since this March, when a full amount of U.S. beef
became available. But spinal columns were discovered in a shipment

Yoshinoya found the spinal columns at its processing plant in
Saitama Prefecture in a box among 700 boxes of frozen boned rib of
beef. Although there was no problem with the remaining 699 boxes of
beef, the company disposed of them.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (DOA), beef products
intended for another country than Japan were erroneously packed into
a box bound for the Japanese market. The Ministry of Agriculture,
Forestry and Fisheries takes the view that there is no serious
problem with the (the U.S. inspection) system.

When looking back over the experiences Japan and the U.S. have had
over the BSE problem, we find the problem too serious to be easily
disposed of by saying it was caused by just a simple mistake.

Japanese consumers are becoming nervous about the safety of food in
the aftermaths of a poisoning outbreak caused by tainted Chinese
dumplings and a series of food-labeling scandals. One supermarket
after another has begun to suspend sales of U.S. beef once again. It
is a matter of course for supermarket chains to take every possible
measure to maintain consumers' confidence.

Promptly after discovering the SRM in U.S. beef, Yoshinoya reported
it to the government. Owning to the report, the government was able
to quickly take measures.

It is necessary to toughen inspections at airports and seaports, but
it might be unrealistic to inspect all deliveries. In such a case,
cooperation between the public and private sector is indispensable
in order to remove problematical food products from distribution
channels, as shown in the recent problem.

Needless to say, the U.S. must step up efforts to prevent a
recurrent of similar problems. We ask the U.S. to pin down the cause
of the problem and to hammer out preventive measures.

Seeing the suspension of sales of U.S. beef at supermarkets,
Americans criticize Japan's responses as "excessive." But different
countries have different perceptions about the safety of food. If
the U.S. is eager to sell its beef on the Japanese market, it should
take measures that will have Japanese consumers believe that U.S.

TOKYO 00001153 007 OF 009

beef is safe.

We would like to point out here that if the U.S. applies political
pressure in an attempt to draw out a concession from Japan on the
age limit, it would work negatively in the end.

(6) Editorial: U.S. beef -- Simple mistake fearful

TOKYO SHIMBUN (Page 5) (Full)
April 25, 2008

A high-risk material that could contain BSE agents has been found
again in beef imported from the United States. The government, which
just recently announced its decision to establish a Consumer Agency,
is required to secure the safety of food from the perspective of

Abnormal prions are believed to be BSE agents, and 99 PERCENT of
them are contained in the brain, spinal cords, and vertebra columns
of cattle. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has designated
them as specified risk materials (SRM). Unless the specified risk
materials are removed completely, beef cannot be eaten with one's
mind at ease. This should be the basic knowledge of the food
distribution system.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has taken a view
that the inclusion of SRM this time around was a simple mistake by a
U.S. beef plant and that it occurred at the shipping stage. The
ministry therefore plans to suspend imports from a U.S. beef plant
that shipped the beef that contained SRM, and it will not impose a
complete embargo on U.S. beef imports as the ministry did so two
years ago when vertebral columns were found.

However, "a simple mistake" is fearful. A specified risk material
was contained in one out of 700 cartons or 17 tons of frozen beef.
But it is a serious matter that 27 kilograms of risk material was
shipped to other country after slipping through inspection. The
management and inspection process cannot escape being criticized for
being sloppy. The United States cannot avoid being criticized for
treating Japanese consumers lightly if a "simple mistake" occurs

The U.S. government and meat industry have asserted that Japan's
quality demand is too strict, but the safety inspections of food
that nurture the health and lives of people should be stricter. The
risk was avoided this time around because Japan's domestic
inspection system worked well.

It is said that the United States does not see BSE as a problem. But
providing quality that is required by buyers is only common sense.

Last week, South Korea and the United States reached an agreement on
the relaxation of U.S. beef import conditions. The United States,
which is unhappy with Japan's tough import restrictions that allow
only U.S. beef from cattle 20 months or younger, has stepped up its
pressure on Japan to ease the restrictions. However, Japanese
consumers, who have strong distrust in the quality management and
the safety of imported food since a series of food-poisoning cases
involving Chinese-made dumplings, will not likely be convinced with
matters as they exist now.

The government should not conclude that the inclusion of a risk

TOKYO 00001153 008 OF 009

material was a simple mistake. It should call on the U.S. side to
conduct an investigation to determine the cause, as well as come up
with measures to prevent a recurrence. It is not too late to ease
the restrictions after ascertaining that Japanese consumers are
happy with the results of the investigation.

Japanese consumers have begun turning gradually away from
"inexpensive food" to "safe food" in their buying habits.

(7) Editorial: U.S. beef: Do not make beef bowl fans cry

ASAHI (Page 3) (Full)
April 25, 2008

Yet another problem has been found in the beef imported from the
United States. One of the 700 boxes of short plate delivered via a
trading firm to Yoshinoya Holdings Co., the largest operator of
restaurants serving beef bowls, contained (short loin) with spinal

To reduce risks associated with BSE, there is an agreement between
Japan and the United States to remove spinal columns and other
materials for exports to Japan.

Short loin with spinal columns is available on the U.S. market, so
the products in question for the domestic market seem to have
erroneously got mixed in the boxes for Japan. So concluding, the
government has decided that there is no need to totally ban U.S.
beef imports, although import inspections will be tightened.

Consumers will not have to worry because at-risk beef is unlikely to
go into the distribution system. Nevertheless, we have experienced
similar events in the past.

In December 2003, Japan shut its market to U.S. beef after a cow
infected with BSE was found in the United States. In December 2005,
Japan resumed imports of beef only from cattle aged 20 months or
younger that are unlikely to accumulate BSE-causing agents on the
condition specified risk materials (SRMs), such as spinal cords and
the brain, be removed. Just a month later, a spinal column was
discovered in a shipment of U.S. veal.

This raised skepticism on whether the U.S. system was sufficient to
meet Japan's import conciliations. The government immediately banned
U.S. beef imports altogether. The Japanese market reopened six
months later. It has been a year and a half since then.

The incident this time around might have been a simple work-related
mistake. Still, we are worried that similar mistakes might occur in
the future.

The U.S. side must clearly explain why such an incident occurred and
what it will do to prevent a recurrence. It must explain those
points to Japanese consumers and seek their understanding. Sluggish
consumption will not rebound unless consumer confidence is

The governments of Japan and the United States have been in talks
since last year on Washington's request to eliminate the age limit
in order to expand exports to Japan. Japan was planning to raise the
age limit to 30 months. But easing a condition would be meaningless
when consumers turn their backs on U.S. beef.

TOKYO 00001153 009 OF 009

Washington might be wondering why the beef that Americans are eating
at home does not sell well in Japan.

In the United States, there is no need to remove SRMs from cattle
aged 30 months or younger. Restrictions have been eased gradually
even in Europe, where the largest number of BSE-infected cattle has
been found, and T-bone steaks from cattle aged 24 months or younger
are consumed there, as well.

The number of BSE cases in Japan is far smaller than that in Europe.
It is a fact that Japan's standards are the severest in the world.
Japan's blanket testing of all cattle is also the strictest in the
world. They come from the idea of reducing risk to the minimum
possible level.

Despite that, consumers' trust in food safety is wavering in Japan.
Their trust can be restored only with steady efforts. This applies
to products produced overseas and at home.


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