The World Today for April 26, 2024

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NEED TO KNOW

Plows to Swords

JAPAN

A recent survey found that more than 92 percent of Japanese respondents held unfavorable views of China, an increase of almost 5 percent compared with last year, reported the Japan Times. The findings hold lessons about geopolitics in Asia, specifically the shift in Japan’s increasingly robust military posture.

Since World War II, when the country surrendered to the US after two nuclear attacks, Japan has ostensibly pacifist policies under its constitution. Under a 1960 treaty with the US, for example, American forces must intervene to defend Japan in the event of war – but Japan has no concomitant obligation, explained Lund University Asian expert Paul O’Shea and Sendai Shirayuri Women’s College professor of international relations Sebastian Maslow in the Conversation.

Now, however, as Russia tramples over Ukrainian sovereignty and many suspect China is considering an invasion of Taiwan, Japanese leaders are reconsidering their defense policies.

Wealthy, technically advanced, and bearing the legacy of a long military history – Japan’s defeat of Russia in 1905 was one of few examples of a non-European power defeating a European one – Japan recently unveiled a next-generation fighter, for example, that symbolizes its new stance.

“Japan is slowly heading toward a forward-looking defense posture that would have been unimaginable in the not-too-distant past,” wrote Japan Forward, adding that the country was increasing its military budget to 2 percent of gross domestic product through the next three years, putting it on track to become the third-biggest military spender globally after the US and China.

As its new carriers come online, the Japanese navy will arguably tip the balance between US-led forces and China in the event of a confrontation over Taiwan, added the Telegraph.

These moves aren’t isolated to Asia or the Pacific. Japan, for instance, has also become a major financial donor to Ukraine – supplying vital aid while politicians in the US and Europe dither – and might supply weapons to the former Soviet republic, risking the ire of Russian President Vladimir Putin, reported Deutsche Welle.

Many Japanese citizens, wary of the destruction their nation has suffered and perpetrated on others in the past like the Rape of Nanjing in China in 1937, are not keen on Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s plans.

Americans like Rahm Emanuel, the current US ambassador to Japan, disagree, however. In a Washington Post op-ed, Emanuel argued that Fumio and his allies realize that Japan can’t separate itself from the rest of the dangerous world, especially when its giant neighbor could become more aggressive in the near future.

All this, he adds, is part and parcel of the “rise of Japan,” he said. “The experts didn’t know much about the new Japan. No one predicted that this would be an era of Japanese transformation, a time when the Japanese surprised nearly everyone with what they can and will do.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Agony of Riches

ITALY

Protests broke out in Venice this week against the local government’s new initiative to charge visitors entering the venerable Italian city – the first city in the world to do so – with demonstrators saying the fee risks turning the destination into “an amusement park,” CNN reported.

On Thursday, Venice began a pilot program aimed at curbing the large number of people taking day trips to visit its World Heritage Sites and famous canals.

The new “contributo di accesso” (access contribution) will require tourists to pay a fee of five euros ($5.40) when they visit the city between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Access is free outside that period and tourists staying overnight do not have to pay it – although they will have to register to get an exemption from the fee.

Visitors will be checked at spot controls at seven access points around the city, including at the main train station. Officials will also conduct random checks beyond entry points and individuals found to have violated the rules will face fines of up to $320.

Venice has long suffered from over-tourism, which has also made housing difficult for its residents. Simone Venturini, the city’s top tourism official, told Sky News that the authorities must “find a new balance between the tourists and residents.”

But ever since it was first proposed, the entry fee has divided public opinion; Hotels and restaurants voiced support for the fee because it could entice visitors to spend the night instead of just visiting for the day.

But many locals, advocates and tourists criticized the plan and expressed skepticism that it would help curb over-tourism. Around 300 people demonstrated near the city’s entrance, with a few clashing with police.

Some lamented that the government’s plan did not provide any “concrete policies for urban development, rent containment and ease of finding housing.”

The pilot project will run until mid-July and officials will then assess the initiative before they decide how to continue.

Lessons Learned

SLOVAKIA

The government of Slovakia on Wednesday approved a plan to abolish the country’s public broadcaster as part of a string of measures enhancing the state’s control over its media, a move critics said would endanger the independence of the press, the BBC reported.

Prime Minister Robert Fico said the bill was necessary because of questions over the broadcaster’s neutrality. The proposal triggered protests last month on the streets of the capital, Bratislava, and outrage among local journalists, opposition politicians and international observers.

Culture Minister and former reporter Martina Šimkovičová, who introduced the plan, accused the Radio and Television of Slovakia (RTVS) of pushing “political activism” and giving a platform only to “mainstream opinion.” The broadcaster has denied the allegations.

RTVS will be replaced by a new organization called Slovak Television and Radio (STVR).

The current director-general of RTVS will be sacked, and a five-member Council appointed by ministers and parliament will handpick his replacement.

Last month, the European Broadcasting Union, the world’s largest public media alliance, criticized the proposal, saying it would breach the European Union’s Media Freedom Act.

Šimkovičová insisted the most recent version of the bill complied with EU legislation after being stripped of some of its most controversial components, including the creation of a council to manage editorial decisions – described by critics as outright censorship.

Meanwhile, 1,200 RTVS staff members signed a petition against the proposal, while 80,000 people signed an open letter to the EU in support of RTVS, the Guardian reported.

Opponents worry that Fico, who has long been critical of journalists and previously resigned from his position as prime minister after one investigating his allies was murdered in 2018 for corruption, will strengthen the country’s pro-Russian stance similar to Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán, the Associated Press wrote.

Šimkovičová, now part of the ultra-nationalist Slovak National Party, previously worked for an online television network accused of pro-Russian bias and disinformation during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The changes are expected to easily pass parliament, where Fico and his allies have a majority, and take effect in June.

No, Thanks

BOTSWANA

Botswana’s government said this week it had rejected a proposal to accept migrants and asylum seekers from the United Kingdom, a plan similar to a deal London reached with Rwanda two years ago, Voice of America reported.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lemogang Kwape said British officials had reached out to the African nation about hosting the migrants before they are processed, but the government declined the proposal, saying it would not commit to “hosting people not knowing what the end game would be,” he added.

The proposal resembled the current deal between the UK and Rwanda, which will see the African nation accept thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who want to settle in the UK.

British officials have hailed that agreement as integral in tackling illegal migration to the UK, with a primary focus on deterring individuals from undertaking perilous journeys across the English Channel in small boats.

Botswana’s decision came days after the UK’s upper house of parliament passed a bill allowing the government to begin deportations to Rwanda following years of legal challenges and political wrangling.

After the passage of the bill Monday by the House of Lords, the UK said it would begin the deportations by mid-July.

Civil society organizations in Botswana have urged their government to decline the deal with the UK, while also urging other nations to distance themselves from the plan as it is not in line with international conventions on the treatment of asylum-seekers.

Meanwhile, Africanews said other countries such as Ivory Coast, Armenia and Costa Rica had also been approached by the UK as possible partners in the scheme.

DISCOVERIES

When Gifts Keep Giving

The city of Pompeii in southern Italy has taught us a lot about the lives of the ancient Romans.

The discovery of this city, covered in a thick blanket of ash and smoke after the nearby Mt. Vesuvius volcano erupted in 79 CE, has allowed the development of modern archaeology, researchers say.

And two centuries after its ruins were discovered, Pompeii still offers new surprises.

Archaeologists at the World Heritage site recently uncovered a banquet room with frescoes that tell a romanticized story of the Trojan War, the Washington Post reported.

The banquet room gave archaeologists a more precise idea of the lavish life that wealthy Romans enjoyed. Entertainment was at the center of it.

Surrounded by depictions of Helen of Troy and Paris, Cassandra and Apollo, rich Pompeiians would gather for suppers where Campanian wine flowed.

Walls were painted black to hide evidence of smoke coming from oil lamps. At night, “the flickering light of the lamps had the effect of making the images appear to move,” especially for those who had had one too many drinks, one researcher told the Washington Post.

The characters on the walls came from stories that remain famous today. Featured in Homer’s “Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” they testify to ancient Greek and Roman sensitivity to “conversations about the past and life.”

On a different note, elsewhere in the house, beneath a staircase, archaeologists found charcoal drawings of gladiators – and “what appears to be an enormous stylized phallus.”

Though some discoveries in Pompeii tell how beautiful life could be for the Romans, others show the sheer inequalities in Roman society.

Researchers also found a prison bakery where enslaved people worked in harsh conditions, living with animals, to supply baked goods to the wealthy.

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