Hypocritical US puts pressure on China over the environment…

Hypocritical US puts pressure on China over the environment… but it’s happy for Japan to dump radioactive waste

By Tom Fowdy

The US is framing China as a partner on climate change. However, in reality, its bid to make Beijing reduce emissions is politically motivated. And its approval of Japan’s plans to dispose of Fukushima waste exposes its dual standards.

Despite the growing stand-off between the United States and China, John Kerry is in town to talk climate change. Appointed by Joe Biden as the US special envoy on climate. Kerry landed in Shanghai on Thursday seeking commitment from China on carbon emissions.

The Biden administration has talked about the need to secure ‘cooperation’ from China on tackling global warming, but there’s little good faith to be found. Sparks won’t fly here. The environment is ultimately just another front to vilify Beijing.

Earlier this week, the US raised eyebrows as it gave open backing to Japan’s bid to release contaminated nuclear water from the Fukushima power plant into the sea. Predictably, the move drew angry protest from both China and South Korea. Yet, on the other hand, when Kerry arrived in Shanghai, he said he wanted to hold China to account on its climate pledges. A clear case of double standards in Beijing’s eyes, and also demonstrating that even so-called ‘cooperation’ is being framed with tough talk.

It’s clear the US isn’t asking China to be a partner on climate change. It is in Shanghai solely to make demands and talk down to it.

Scapegoating of China

While the Biden administration is, objectively speaking, more concerned about global climate issues than President Trump ever was, having re-joined the Paris climate accord, scapegoating China on the environment has remained a consistent theme within Washington, and there is a political incentive in doing so.

Despite the fact that China actually files more renewable energy patents than any country in the world. And despite China steaming ahead on electric cars, buses and other sustainable resources. The country is persistently stereotyped by the mainstream media as being a gigantic and notorious polluter. The Trump administration aggressively pursued this narrative in order to ramp up the idea of China as a threat. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even going as far as accusing Beijing of killing people in other countries through air pollution.

Of course, objectively speaking, there is a serious middle ground. We cannot deny the reality that China has an enormous population and the world’s largest industrial base. In terms of global carbon emissions obviously it matters a great deal. One cannot defeat climate change without securing China’s participation.

But one cannot also play down the notion that Beijing is being singled out on this matter. Why was Washington so quick to overlook Tokyo’s proposed dumping of radioactive waste, despite the implications it could have for the ocean? Why is it ignored that there are places with far worse air quality than China such as New Delhi, as well as cities in Bangladesh or Pakistan? Climate change is a global issue, which requires global participation. However, China is being given special treatment.

The goal is to constrain China’s development

The climate change debate is a convenient way to try to constrain China’s development by attempting to force it away from the one thing it needs the most right now, despite its strides in renewables – coal.

As a developing industrial nation, China’s need for energy is constantly surging. Coal is the most affordable and accessible commodity. Making it essential for sustained GDP growth, but it accounts for 40% of its carbon emissions. Renewables matter, but they cannot overnight satisfy the needs of 1.4 billion people and ‘the world’s factory’.

It’s for this reason that China is the largest importer of coal in the world. And so it should come as no surprise that John Kerry is demanding that China stop building new coal-fired fuel stations. A recent study found that if China is to meet its target of zero net emissions by 2060, it needs to reduce most of its capacity.

This makes for a difficult dilemma for China, which has committed to reducing emissions. However, it cannot easily divert from its existing development model. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Therefore, even though Kerry’s visit is depicted as a mission to seek accord, in reality, it is political and subtly confrontational. Plus smacks of hypocrisy, given America’s tolerance of Japan’s Fukushima decision. It’s clear that while the Earth might be warming up, the freezing of the relationship between China and the US continues apace as the new Cold War intensifies.


Tom Fowdy is a British writer and analyst of politics and international relations with a primary focus on East Asia.


This is the chart that western media does not want you to see

Japan Inc driving towards a hydrogen future

By SCOTT FOSTER

Toyota, Honda and Nissan are just a few of the Japanese companies placing big bets on hydrogen fuel

When Warren Buffett’s investment company Berkshire Hathaway announced last August that it had acquired more than 5% of the five largest Japanese general trading companies. Mitsubishi Corporation; Itochu; Mitsui & Co; Marubeni; and Sumitomo Corporation. Most failed to notice that Buffet was buying into coal-fired power projects.

Within three months, a group of institutional investors led by Nordea Asset Management of Finland sent a letter to Mitsubishi Corp requesting that it abandon its Vung Ang-2 coal-fired power plant project in Vietnam. Friends of the Earth, Greta Thunberg and Japanese environmentalists piled on, but to no avail.

In February, however, Mitsubishi Corp announced its withdrawal from the Vihn Tan 3 coal-fired power plant project, also in Vietnam, and said that Vung Ang-2 would be its last such project.

Both Itochu and Mitsui & Co have also announced plans to exit thermal coal. Marubeni and Sumitomo Corp plan to do so except in cases when no other source of power is available. Or where the most advanced emission-reduction technologies are used.

So what will they do instead?

These are large companies with annual turnover ranging from $48 billion (Sumitomo) to $146 billion (Mitsubishi). Operating in a wide range of businesses. From resources & energy to infrastructure, industry, IT and finance – they have no shortage of projects.

And they are all involved in hydrogen energy. For example:

Mitsubishi Corp, its Japanese engineering affiliate Chiyoda and five local companies are working on the development of a sustainable hydrogen economy in Singapore. They are using Chiyoda’s hydrogen storage and transportation technology.

Itochu plans to build one of the world’s largest liquid hydrogen plants in Japan with Air Liquide to supply fuel cell vehicles. Air Liquide already operates hydrogen fueling stations in Japan.

Mitsui & Co has entered into an agreement with Hiringa Energy to pursue commercial hydrogen energy projects in New Zealand. It has also invested $25 million in FirstElement Fuel. It is the largest developer and operator of hydrogen stations in California. 

Marubeni is working with Siemens and Masdar to develop hydrogen and other alternative energy technologies in Abu Dhabi.

Sumitomo Corp and Japanese engineering company JGC are planning to build a facility in Australia. That will produce hydrogen using solar-powered electrolysis.

These and many other Japanese companies are also getting involved in hydrogen energy through consortia and industry associations.

Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) pilot project in Victoria, Australia, announced that the world’s first coal-to-hydrogen production process had begun operations.

The HESC project is being implemented by a consortium. From Japan, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, J-POWER, gas distributor Iwatani, Marubeni and Sumitomo Corp. Also supported by the Victorian, Australian and Japanese governments.

Last October, the Japan Hydrogen Association was established by Mitsui & Co, Iwatani, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Japanese oil and energy company ENEOS, Kobe Steel, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, Kansai Electric Power and Toshiba.

Forming international alliances

It aims to form international alliances and develop global hydrogen supply chains. In December, those companies were joined by Toyota and shipping company K Line.

In addition, K Line, Iwatani, Kansai Electric Power, Namura Shipbuilding, the Development Bank of Japan and the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology have formed a group to promote hydrogen fuel cell-powered ships.

Marubeni is also leading the Kobe/Kansai Hydrogen Utilization Council, which aims to develop a regional hydrogen supply chain in west-central Japan. The council includes many of the companies listed above, plus power plant equipment maker Mitsubishi Power, general contractor Obayashi and Shell Japan.

The Japanese are keen on industry associations, which often overlap. It sounds bureaucratic but ensures a degree of coordination that would be hard to achieve otherwise. As well as logistical and financial support for worldwide operations.

Iwatani recently announced plans to produce hydrogen with Stanwell Corporation in Queensland, Australia, and to build seven new hydrogen fueling stations in California with Toyota.

With interest high in Toyota’s latest developments in hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) it’s worth pointing out that Honda and Nissan also make hydrogen FCEVs.

Toyota began financing the construction of hydrogen fueling stations for passenger cars and other vehicles in California in 2014. Honda quickly followed suit. Toyota, Honda and Nissan have been supporting the development of hydrogen station infrastructure in Japan since 2015.

ENEOS now plans to install hydrogen pumps at its gas stations, a first for Japan and one that points toward a nationwide build-out. ENEOS operates some 13,000 service stations from Hokkaido to Okinawa.

Growing number of fueling stations

Available data show that there are now some 135 hydrogen fueling stations in Japan, 150-plus in Europe (more than half of them in Germany), about 80 in North America (more than half of them in California), and more than 70 in China.

The list of hydrogen power applications continues to grow:

  • Buses powered by Toyota hydrogen fuel cells are being introduced in Japan and Portugal;
  • East Japan Railway Company, Hitachi and Toyota are working on train engines powered by hydrogen fuel cells and storage batteries; and
  • Construction equipment maker Komatsu plans to develop hydrogen-powered mining trucks.

There are questions about hydrogen energy, most of them having to do with its relatively high cost, how it can be transported efficiently and safely, and the potentially negative environmental consequences of hydrogen production. All of these problems are currently the subject of research and feasibility studies.

Hydrogen fuel is currently several times more expensive than gasoline. However the price should come down as the volume produced and sold goes up. It will happen as Japan moves from 135 hydrogen stations now to several thousand in the ENEOS network alone. Transport is made economical by liquefaction and compression.

Safety concerns

As with gasoline, safety is a matter of pipe, tank and fueling system engineering. An industry representative explained that his company’s hydrogen fuel tank could withstand an attack by .50 caliber machine gun.)

Hidden environmental costs are a concern with most if not all alternatives to fossil fuels. In the case of hydrogen, the issues getting the most attention are the source of energy for electrolysis and potential carbon emissions from the coal-to-hydrogen production process.

The former is easily monitored. The latter will either be dealt with efficiently or the technology will fail economically as well as politically.

KMPG’s Global Automotive Executive Survey of 2017 found that 78% of 1,000 senior auto executives asked thought that hydrogen FCEVs would eventually outperform battery-powered EVs. Elon Musk is not one of them. Toyota, Honda and Nissan are pursuing both battery and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Some industry observers believe that the cost of new technology and infrastructure will prove to be too high, but both government support and the long but incomplete list of companies mentioned in this article suggest otherwise.

In any case, Warren Buffett’s investments have done well so far. As of March 12, the share prices of Japan’s five biggest trading companies were up 45% to 99% from their 52-week lows.


Scott Foster is an analyst with Lightstream Research, Tokyo.

Take 5 – Japan Times News Brief

Welcome to “Take 5”! – Eurasia News Online is bringing the news brief published by Japan Times. It is great source of news from Japan. It should not take longer than five minutes to read it.

1. Resist the blossom

The government officially declared Thursday that the coronavirus state of emergency currently imposed on Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures will be lifted Monday. However, officials are urging the public to stay vigilant to avoid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, reports Satoshi Sugiyama.

The emergency’s effectiveness seems to have reached its limit as the number of new cases in the region stubbornly refuses to decline. Now, toasty weather and blooming cherry blossoms are just a couple of the forgotten pleasures that may entice people to let their guard down, writes Ryusei Takahashi.

Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa are planning to ask dining establishments to close at 9 p.m. rather than 8 through at least the end of March. On Thursday, the capital ordered 27 defiant restaurants and bars to shorten their hours or face fines of up to ¥300,000, the first such orders under a recently revised law.

The same day, the health ministry said the government plans to include people with severe mental illnesses or disabilities in a priority list for COVID-19 vaccinations. With the addition of an extra 2.1 million people, the number of those with underlying conditions on the list will total 10.3 million.

2. When the chips are down

Honda says it will suspend some production in the U.S. and Canada next week as the pandemic, a chip shortage and winter weather batter its supply chain. Toyota, too, may have to idle some lines, shifts or even entire plants as the cold front disrupts supplies of some products.

At least Toyota doesn’t have a chip shortage, unlike its competitors. The firm pioneered the just-in-time manufacturing strategy. However, its decision to stockpile chips, which have become key components in cars, goes back a decade to the Fukushima disaster, Bloomberg reports.

Toyota is also looking to the future, its vision of which is taking shape at the foot of Mount Fuji. That is where the firm just began building a new city where it can play with all its toys. Woven City will be powered by solar and hydrogen fuel cells much like the ones in its new Mirai vehicles. The new cell technology will go on sale to power companies and other sectors this spring.

As global power shifts, Japan mulls new alliances and weapons

As it shifts away from pacifism, Tokyo hopes to leverage the technological edge of native defense contractors to piggyback new missiles and fighters off US systems

 

Japan and the United Kingdom fought ferocious naval battles in World War II, but bygones are bygones: The two island democracies are planning joint naval exercises next year.

The proposed maneuvers – the first by the two navies since World War I – are part of a cooperation pact announced by London and Tokyo on December 14. The pact also includes jointly developing a new air-to-air missile for the US F-35 stealth fighter used by both countries.

Behind these moves are a fear of China’s naval advances. Japan also has doubts about Washington’s security commitment, while a pre-Brexit Britain looks tentatively beyond European shores.

“The Japanese are really trying to find friends anywhere they can,” Eric Wertheim, a US naval weapons analyst said. “China has been increasingly assertive and aggressive in their part of the world.”

“Japan and Britain are two island nations that are feeling a little more isolated than they were just a few years ago, so it’s not surprising that they are building a new defense relationship,” added Rockford Weitz, director of the Maritime Studies Program at the Fletcher School of Tufts University.

The moves come as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe floats a raft of new proposals for indigenous weapons that illustrate how far the sector has come in a nervous new Japan that is shifting away from the pacificism of yore.

Serious moves

Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Royal Navy will hold separate (rather than multilateral) joint exercises when British frigates deploy to Asia-Pacific next year. Ground forces from both nations will also hold joint maneuvers in 2018, and the Royal Air Force has already held a joint exercise in Japan. Japan and Britain, moreover, inked an agreement earlier in 2017 to exchange data that can be used in co-developing an advanced fighter jet.

The Japanese Navy has also held joint drills with US, Indian and Australian vessels, while Tokyo is in discussions to expand defense cooperation with Australia and various Southeast Asian nations.

“Why not have a Japanese, Indian and Australian alliance?” asked Joseph F. Callo, a naval expert and retired rear admiral in the US Navy Reserve. That would reflect Washington’s policy: the new US national security strategy includes diplomatic alliances between the US, India and Japan to deter China in the region.

Abe’s agenda

Japan’s hawkish PM called for sweeping overhauls of existing defense program guidelines on December 15. Tokyo is expected to revise Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines by year’s end, although Abe still faces hurdles in revising chunks of Japan’s pacifist constitution.

Tokyo is seeking to leverage the technological edge of native defense contractors to improve on US weapons already in the country’s arsenal, or to come up with entirely new ones. If Abe can fully overturn curbs on military exports, indigenous weapons could also generate new revenues.

The US-designed F-35A is a launch platform. Japan is assembling the US stealth fighter at local plants and has joined with Australia as the servicer for F-35s operated by US allies in the region. Japan is slated to receive 42 F-35As from the US and may buy additional jets.

The country proved it could piggyback improved weapons off US originals with the Mitsubishi F-2 – a larger, longer-range variant of the US F-16C. The F-2 and related projects helped prompt the Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin program, Japan’s first domestically built stealth aircraft. The X-2 program will be concluded next year, then Japanese defense officials will assess whether to develop a new indigenous fighter, the F-3, or develop one with a foreign partner. Regardless, long-term Japanese thinking is increasingly focused on developing indigenous weapons systems against China.

In this vein, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported that Japan is mulling developing a stealthy, specialized Japanese cruise missile: an improved version of the US Tomahawk that Japan already uses. Upgrades are expected to have a radar-evading stealth shape and the capability to change course in mid-flight.

Recent Japanese interest in expanding its defense shield to include downing Chinese cruise missiles is expected to intensify cooperation with Washington, as is a December 19 cabinet decision to add a US land-based Aegis anti-missile system to bolster defenses against North Korea. But these moves could also spur new Japanese innovations.

The sun rises for Japanese defense firms

Japanese defense contractors have advanced greatly since the Cold War, when their sector was hamstrung by strong anti-war sentiment. Article 9 of Japan’s post-war constitution, which forever renounces war as “a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes,” is no longer sacrosanct, now that the country’s pacifist-leaning war generation is mostly in the grave.

Companies such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries have been assembling US-designed fighters, helicopters, Aegis missile destroyers and other weapons for decades under co-licensing arrangements with US firms. They have also built domestically-designed diesel submarines, armored vehicles and limited suites of other conventional arms that fit the constitutional definition of “defensive” weapons. US products such as radar systems and the Patriot anti-missile system were bought off the shelf.

Now Japan is moving to build indigenous and hybrid weapons systems. “The Japanese defense industry is very good and very capable, as are their defense forces,” said Eric Wertheim, a US naval weapons expert, adding that China’s numerical superiority relates not just to manpower, but also to arms production.

Japan’s potential prowess as an arms maker was apparent in the 1980s. Coatings used on Japanese microwave ovens and other advanced materials drew the notice of US defense researchers for possible use in stealth fighters. Computer-aided Japanese machine tools were so superior that the Soviets tried to illegally acquire them to make super-silent submarine propellers.

The Pentagon pushed Tokyo during the Cold War to leverage the country’s technological edge in developing cutting-edge weapons, but Japanese officials balked, citing public opposition.

Some projects went “clunk.” Mitsubishi had trouble emulating US avionics and other “black box” fighter tech; plans for Japanese warplanes were shelved in favor of producing US variants; and a “kneeling tank” with a low battlefield profile proved obsolete by the time it was deployed.

That was then. Now, Japan fields a Type 10 fourth-generation main battle tank with expanded countermeasures against anti-tank weapons and has successfully tested the indigenous X-2.

In a nod to constitutional sensitivities, Japan’s helicopter carriers are designated “destroyers.” However, its four “helicopter destroyers” are de facto mini aircraft carriers that can be used by the vertical-landing F-35. This is a far cry from the mid-1980s, when the mere mention of building a “defensive” helicopter carrier in a government white paper stirred public protests.

Japanese diesel submarines are also world class. Though a Japanese consortium unexpectedly lost to France’s DCNS in bidding for a US$40 billion Australian contract for new submarines, Abe is likely to keep beating the drum for such overseas arms sales.

“Japan will continue to put feelers out and they will get contracts,” said Weitz of the Fletcher School. “Their diesel-electric subs are phenomenal.”

Doug Tsuruoka is Editor-at-Large of Asia Times