By Linda Sieg and David Brunnstrom
TOKYO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden will highlight Tokyo’s central role in Washington’s strategy to counter the challenge of an increasingly assertive China at a summit on Friday.
While that emphasis on Japan’s key status will be welcome in Tokyo, where some politicians are pushing for a tougher stance towards Beijing, it also raises questions about how far Tokyo can go to meet demands on regional defence and human rights.
“This will be the precursor to a series of meetings among like-minded countries to send the right signal to Beijing,” Kunihiko Miyake, an adviser to Suga, told Reuters.
Suga took over as premier last September, inheriting a China policy that sought to balance security concerns with deep economic ties.
But striking that balance has become harder as China increases maritime activities in the East and South China Seas and near Taiwan, which Beijing considers a wayward province.
Rights concerns have deepened over the treatment of Muslim Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang region. China denies abuses, but Washington says Beijing is perpetrating a genocide.
Suga will be the first foreign leader to meet Biden in person since the president took office, something that could give Suga a boost ahead of a general election this year.
“Asking Suga to meet the president first means a lot – that China competition is critical and who is the best partner? Japan,” said Toshihiro Nakayama of Japan’s Keio University.
“That also means that Japan has to do more.”
Suga told reporters before leaving for Washington he hoped to strengthen the alliance based on the shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law, show the two countries’ leadership in creating a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and build a relationship of trust with Biden.
Besides regional security, the two are also expected to discuss climate change, supply chain resilience, a global semiconductor shortage and COVID-19.
Marc Knapper, the senior official for Japan and Korea at the U.S. State Department, said issues that would be “front and centre” in the discussions included “China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea, South China Sea; what’s happening within China, and…around China, Taiwan, Hong Kong.”
He told an event at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies there would also be discussion of North Korea’s nuclear missile program, which threatens both Japan and the United States, and ways to address “existential issues of our time, climate change, clean energy, COVID-19.”
Japan is grappling with rising coronavirus infections with fewer than 100 days from the planned start of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
‘PEACE AND STABILITY’
In a statement after a March meeting of U.S.-Japan defence and foreign ministers, the two sides “underscored the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait” and shared “serious concerns” about human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada have imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for alleged abuses in Xinjiang and some Japanese lawmakers think Tokyo should adopt its own law allowing it to do the same, while Japanese executives worry about a backlash.
Japanese officials were divided over whether Suga should endorse a strong statement on Taiwan, despite U.S. urging, or Xinjiang, two Japanese ruling party lawmakers familiar with the discussions said.
A Japanese foreign ministry official said it was not decided whether there would be a joint statement after the summit.
Asked to comment, a senior U.S. official said: “We would not want Japan to make any statements that they do not fully support.”
Any comments by Suga on either Taiwan or human rights will be closely watched by China, which has warned Tokyo against “being misled” by countries biased against Beijing.
Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial issue and a source of major friction with Washington, which is required by U.S. law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.
While Tokyo has no official diplomatic relations with Taipei, non-governmental engagement has flourished. Some Japanese lawmakers want even closer ties.
The last time U.S and Japanese leaders referred to Taiwan in a joint statement was in 1969, when Japan’s prime minister said maintenance of peace and security in the “Taiwan area” was important for its own security. That was before Tokyo normalised ties with Beijing.
Japan hosts over 50,000 U.S. military personnel and, experts say, would be unlikely to stand idly by in any Taiwan crisis, although many ordinary citizens would probably be wary of entanglement.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg in Tokyo and David Brunnstrom and Steve Holland In Washington; Additional reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Elaine Lies; Editing by David Dolan, Michael Perry and Chizu Nomiyama)
How the COVID-19 microchip shortage has brought Canada's car industry to a halt — again – CBC.ca
Even before the pandemic, 2020 was always going to be an uncertain year for Canada’s automotive industry.
The Big 3 automakers — General Motors, Ford and Chrysler (now known as Stellantis) — were set to negotiate multi-year work agreements with their main unions, after the previous agreements with their workers had expired.
Then COVID-19 hit, and everything changed. Buyers weren’t coming to showrooms for fear of getting sick, so sales slowed to a crawl. Factories shut down to keep workers safe.
By the time consumers felt safe enough to take their first tentative steps back into dealerships this year, they were confronted by a new problem: There were no cars to buy.
That’s because when things slowed down in 2020, car companies slashed their orders from their suppliers for the components that go into them. When demand came roaring back, those same suppliers could not ramp up fast enough, especially the makers of the cheap little semiconductor microchips that are in just about everything these days.
“Automakers in Canada initially thought that demand would be very slow recovery over the course of the pandemic, so they cut their chip orders,” said Rebekah Young, an economist with Scotiabank.
It’s not just the car companies, either. Makers of everything from iPhones, to gaming consoles and even refrigerators can’t find microchips right now, which is a global supply crunch for just about everything.
A typical car rolling off the line today likely contains dozens of semiconductor microchips that control everything from the headlights to the entertainment system to GPS navigation.
They’re relatively inexpensive, adding a few dollars apiece to the cost of a typical car. But they’re also highly customized, which means it’s next to impossible to find alternatives on short notice. But without that custom-made $1 microchip, a car company can’t finish a car that might sell for $40,000 — and the industry is scrambling to get its hands on what’s available.
“Do you remember the toilet paper shortage in March and April of 2020?” automotive journalist Stephanie Wallcraft said in an interview. “That’s pretty much what we’re going through right now in terms of semiconductors.”
“Everybody’s trying to get semiconductors all at once and there’s just not the supply to get that inventory out,” she said.
Car companies aren’t necessarily at the front of the line, so they’re waiting their turn same as everyone else. That’s causing them to idle factories in Canada until they can get the components to start building again.
GM’s facility in Ingersoll has been down for most of the year, and Ford’s main Oakville plant has been idled at times, too. The Stellantis facility in Windsor was offline for two months up until May before it reopened at limited capacity.
As recently as last year Stellantis was floating the idea of expanding production there but this week the company waylaid staff with news that it would be closing one line entirely and laying off 1,800 workers.
In the labour deals they hammered out late last year, Canada’s big car makers made it clear that the future of the automotive industry in Canada will be in making electric vehicles, but most of those won’t be rolling off the lines until some time in 2024 at the earliest.
Until then, Canadian car plants don’t have a lot to do, and a big part of the problem is that the vehicles Canadian plants are set up to make aren’t the ones that are selling.
“What they’re doing is they’re allocating the minimum chips to their most profitable vehicles,” Unifor president Jerry Dias said in an interview with CBC News.
“If you’re looking at the industry in North America that would be predominantly pickup trucks and SUVs.”
Young, the economist, says Canada is on track to produce about 1.2 million vehicles this year. That would be the lowest annual total since 1982 — below the 1.4 million the country made in pandemic-stricken 2020, and well off the 2.2 million annual pace that the country had been cranking out for the decade leading up to 2019.
Chip makers, mostly in Asia had been ramping up production through the first part of 2021, before the delta variant put a chill on everything again. Malaysia makes about one seventh of the world’s semiconductors, and factories there have been idled for September and October. Vietnam is another major supplier, and they too are about three months behind because of COVID lockdowns.
For both car buyers and the people who make them, the good news is that the experts think things will get back to normal at some point. But the bad news is it could take a while.
“Demand for vehicles is very strong this year, and that could have easily closed pre-pandemic gaps this year if there were enough vehicles to buy,” Young said.
But without enough chips to go around “we see that being pushed out not only to 2022, but in fact 2023.”
At least 34 dead after floods in north India
At least 34 people have died following days of heavy rains in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand, the state’s chief minister said, as rescuers continued work to free those stranded on Wednesday.
Aerial footage of the affected areas showed engorged rivers and villages partially submerged by floodwaters.
“There is huge loss due to the floods … the crops have been destroyed,” Pushkar Singh Dhami told Reuters partner ANI after surveying the damage late on Tuesday.
“The locals are facing a lot of problems, the roads are waterlogged, bridges have been washed away. So far 34 people have died and we are trying to normalise the situation as soon as possible.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet he was “anguished” by the loss of life.
The Himalayan state of Uttarakhand is especially prone to flooding. More than 200 were feared killed in February after flash floods swept away a hydroelectric dam.
Unseasonally heavy rains across India have led to deadly floods in several areas of the country in recent days. Authorities in the southern state of Kerala said on Monday more than 20 people had died there following landslides. (This story corrects typographic error in the last paragraph)
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Jane Wardell)
Japanese volcano spews plumes of ash, people warned away
A volcano erupted in Japan on Wednesday, blasting ash several miles into the sky and prompting officials to warn against the threat of lava flows and falling rocks, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.
Mount Aso, a tourist destination on the main southern island of Kyushu, sent plumes of ash 3.5 km (2.2 miles) high when it erupted at about 11:43 a.m. (0243 GMT), the Japan Meteorological Agency said.
It raised the alert level for the volcano to 3 on a scale of 5, telling people not to approach, and warned of a risk of large falling rocks and pyroclastic flows within a radius of about 1 km (0.6 mile) around the mountain’s Nakadake crater.
The government is checking to determine the status of a number of climbers on the mountain at the time, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters, but added that there were no reports of casualties.
Television networks broadcast images of a dark cloud of ash looming over the volcano that swiftly obscured large swathes of the mountain.
Ash falls from the 1,592-metre (5,222-foot) mountain in the prefecture of Kumamoto are expected to shower nearby towns until late afternoon, the weather agency added.
Mount Aso had a small eruption in 2019, while Japan’s worst volcanic disaster in nearly 90 years killed 63 people on Mount Ontake in September 2014.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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