International Papers

Japanese Yens

Le Figaro of Paris led its front page Wednesday with a headline saying that Japan was anxious about the new single European currency, the euro. “Just as the country is trying to get out of a recession, Tokyo fears that the yen may be relegated to the rank of a regional currency,” it said. According to the conservative French paper, Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, due in Paris Wednesday at the start of a European tour, was going to press the case for a new “tri-polar” monetary system based on the U.S. dollar, the euro, and the yen. “The birth of the euro and the preparation of a ‘yen zone’ in Asia will be at the heart of the subjects discussed during his trip,” Le Figaro said.

In a front page editorial signed by Pierre Rousselin, the paper noted that although Japan is still the richest country in the world, if judged by its investments and balance of payments surpluses, it wouldn’t have dared address the United States so frankly about its ambitions for the yen if the euro hadn’t been born. But now Obuchi has spoken openly of wanting the yen to be “one of the three world currencies,” which Le Figaro said was “in itself a fine tribute to the euro, a currency which has only just been born.” But the editorial warned, “After the difficulties linked to the Asian crisis, Tokyo and Washington have recently rediscovered their old complicity. In relation to the yen and the dollar, the euro is going to have to find its place, remembering that a ménage à trois usually ends as two against one.”

In Japan, the country’s biggest selling newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, led Wednesday with the discovery of a diary showing that Emperor Hirohito never considered abdication at the end of World War II, even though his country was in ruins and he was worried about being prosecuted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. The newly found private diary of Yoshihiro Tokugawa, a former grand chamberlain of the imperial court, records a conversation of 1968 in which the emperor said he had always ruled out the possibility of giving up the throne because he had considered it a “sacred duty to pass this nation, which I inherited from my ancestors, on to future generations.” Before the diary was found, Japanese historians believed that the emperor had at least contemplated abdication.

Despite the imminence of the Senate trial of President Clinton, the story got little coverage around the world, though it was the subject of an editorial Wednesday in London’s Financial Times. The paper came out in favor of an abbreviated hearing ending with a “test” vote, which would probably be followed by a motion of censure. “An early vote would see the Senate address from the outset the core issue in this sorry saga,” the editorial said. “In the end, it is about proportionality. Mr Clinton lied about his relationship with Ms Lewinsky. But is that sufficient cause to depose a president?”

Of much greater interest to the world’s press was the prospect of Elizabeth Dole seeking the Republican nomination. Her photograph dominated the front page of Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung, and the Guardian of London ran a two page feature Wednesday headed “Clinton vs Dole (the rematch)” about the prospect of a Hillary-Elizabeth battle for the White House. “Both are hugely attractive assets to their parties,” the article said. “Hillary Clinton has emerged beatified from the Monicagate saga, a wronged woman who perhaps did more than any other single leader to rescue the November elections for the Democrats.”

With most of the international papers dominated in midweek by domestic issues, the South China Morning Post reported in Hong Kong that flight attendants on Cathay Pacific, an airline that promises “warmth and friendly service straight from the heart,” were threatening to stop smiling at passengers if their pay demands weren’t met. “Our contracts do not say we have to smile,” a union official said. The China Daily reported the establishment of a new national anti-smuggling police force of an initial 6,000 officers. “Smuggling can wreck the economy, and destroy the Party, the military and maybe even the country,” Luo Gan, a senior government official, was quoted as saying at the launch.

In London, the Guardian devoted an editorial Wednesday to a disaster affecting the British operations of the McDonald’s hamburger chain. The company has taken out newspaper ads to apologize for running out of Big Macs after an unexpected public response to a “two for the price of one” special offer. “McDonald’s running out of Big Macs? It’s like Brazil running out of coffee,” the editorial said. But it went on to say that the McDonald’s special offer could also be looked at as “an unusual example of a Keynesian stimulus within the service industries just when the [British] economy is slithering into recession.” Perhaps McDonald’s should consider doing something similar in other countries where consumer demand is frozen, it said, “and where better than in Japan where the economy is in danger of sustained contraction because Japanese consumers simply refuse to spend their own money (of which they have huge quantities).” The Guardian concluded, “They too look ripe for a topical dose of Macflation.”