International Papers

Japanese Cultural Fallout

Asahi Shimbun blames last week’s uranium accident in Tokaimura on misguided Japanese cultural values. “In the United States, technical association codes of ethics put the greatest emphasis on protecting public safety, health and welfare. Loyalty to employers is fourth on the list. Quite probably the Tokaimura accident could have been avoided if just one person among those technicians, company executives and bureaucrats had applied such a philosophy.” Despite admissions that the plant had flouted government-approved guidelines for the handling of uranium and comments reported in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post from Western scientists that “safety practices in Japan are ‘a bit lax,’ ” the Japanese government restated its commitment to commercial generation of nuclear power Tuesday.

The seizure last week of the Myanmar (Burma) Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, by pro-democracy protestors “achieved precious little to advance the cause of the hobbled pro-democracy movement in that benighted country,” the Straits Times of Singapore said in an editorial. The gunmen demanded that the Myanmar military regime release its political prisoners and start a dialogue with dissident leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and that the parliament elected in 1990 be allowed to convene. Although the demands were not met, the 89 hostages taken at the embassy were released unharmed, and the gunmen were allowed to escape. “Myanmar, arguably one of the world’s harshest military regimes, is bound to crack down even harder on political dissidents after what happened,” the paper argued, adding that Burmese dissidents could now lose their safe haven in Thailand since the sympathetic Thai government cannot be seen to support terrorist groups. The editorial encouraged Asian governments to press Myanmar to break its stalemate. It concluded, “It is far better that the military regime drops its state of siege and deal with Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, who espouses non-violent principles, than let the situation fester.”

The Sydney Morning Herald reported Tuesday that the head of the peacekeeping forces in East Timor had called on pro-independence guerrillas to give up their weapons. An editorial in Wednesday’s SMH said, “In the overall interests of peace and stability, Interfet [the international force in East Timor] must have a monopoly of force for the foreseeable future.” Admitting that it will be difficult to persuade groups such as Falintil to disarm while Indonesian troops remain, the paper said, “When the last Indonesian soldier has left East Timor, the rationale for the guerillas remaining a fighting force will be gone as well. It is then that Falintil should hand over its weapons.”

At the annual Conservative Party conference in Britain, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made what the conservative Times called a “jingoistic” speech blaming all Britain’s problems in the last 60 years on continental Europe.”[I]n my lifetime all our problems have come from mainland Europe and all the solutions have come from the English-speaking nations of the world that have kept law-abiding liberty alive for the future,” Thatcher said. A party spokesman told the Times the flap was a “storm in a teacup … in her lifetime World War Two and the Soviet Union have been the major threats to Britain.” An op-ed in the same paper said that whereas Thatcher’s legacy has proved “positive” for the Labor Party, for the Tories it has been “little short of catastrophe.” Once the luster fades from the current Labor government, the column said, the Conservatives “had better be standing in the centre ground. For if, when people turn around to look afresh at this strange anachronism called the Conservative Party, they find it where Labour wants it to be–clinging to Thatcher’s skirts on the far Right–they will simply turn straight back to Labour.”

Lino Oviedo, who fled to Argentina in March after he was accused of involvement in the assassination of Paraguay’s vice president, was exiled to a remote Patagonian island last week for violating the terms of his asylum, reports the Buenos Aires Herald. Oviedo, who had agreed not to make political pronouncements, broke his pledge by declaring that he should be running Paraguay. Now from Tierra del Fuego he’s complaining that the harsh climate might endanger his recent hair transplant. A Herald editorial said, “The argument that his hair implant needs more time to take root was not only legally flimsy but also highly unbecoming for his rugged martial profession and his tough guy image.” More berugged than rugged, perhaps.