Most Arabs in the dark about Japan’s power structure

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a policy speech from the podium at an extraordinary Diet (Parliament) session in Tokyo this month. (AFP)
Updated 29 October 2019

Most Arabs in the dark about Japan’s power structure

  • A YouGov poll of Arabs' perception of Japan finds confusion about executive authority
  • The prime minister was correctly identified as the final decision-maker by 44 percent

DUBAI: Many Arabs are not aware of Japan’s power structure, according to a YouGov survey of Arabs’ perception of the country, conducted for Arab News.
More than half (56 percent) of the 3,033 respondents from the GCC bloc, the Levant and North Africa, aged 16 or above, said they were unfamiliar with the power structure in Japan, although 44 percent correctly identified the prime minister as the final decision-maker.
“I don’t find this particularly surprising,” said Khobaib Osailan, a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
“There is little reason to expect a large number of Arabs to have an accurate knowledge of Japanese political structures.”
He told Arab News that while many Arabs are avid consumers of Japanese cultural products, from anime and manga to sushi, the majority do not view Japan as a key political player in the Arab world.
“Thus, there is little interest in gaining accurate knowledge of their internal political structure,” he said. “Also, many in the Arab world associate democracy with the West.
“For them, Japan is viewed as a model of economic success and less as a country with a democratically elected prime minister and an emperor with only ceremonial powers.” 

The nature of Japanese politics was another possible explanation, he said.
“While Japan is a democracy where parliamentary elections occur every four years, one party, that is the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has been dominating government for at least six decades,” Osailan said.
“The lack of a heated and visible electoral competition may have reduced Arabs’ attention to Japanese politics.”
Theodore Karasik, senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics in Washington DC, agreed, stating that the role of the prime minister is similar in some other Arab countries.
“But Japan’s power structure is unique in itself in terms of structure, function, and outreach in terms of international economic affairs,” he told Arab News.
Overall, GCC nationals in the study were less aware of the political power structure in Japan, with as many GCC nationals identifying the emperor as the final decision-maker on laws as those correctly identifying the prime minister.
“It may sound like a stereotype, but GCC nationals may assume that Japan’s emperor has a final say because of story tales, movies and other means of communicating fiction or non-fictional images,” Karasik said.
“Images of a Japan with an emperor gets into the psyche and perhaps this may explain such thinking. Understanding the drivers for why this perception exists means educating people about Japan’s political structure and concepts surrounding Tokyo’s policy development.”
For Osailan, given the absence of accurate knowledge of Japan’s political institutions, many people in the GCC could be projecting their own political institutions onto Japan’s.
“Many people in GCC countries view monarchs as necessarily having considerable executive prerogatives,” he told Arab News.
“In other Arab countries, even monarchies like Jordan and Morocco, citizens are accustomed to having prime ministers as chief executives.”
Awareness of the powers of the prime minister is lowest in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, with only 35 percent of Saudi and UAE residents selecting the prime minister as the person who decides the laws.
According to Karasik, the reason may lie in the different style of governance found in the Arabian Peninsula as opposed to most other parts of the Middle East, while Osailan found such results surprising given that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are Japan’s largest trading partners in the Arab world.
“Why don’t these strong economic ties translate into greater knowledge of Japanese politics?” he asked.
“One possible answer is that, unlike economic ties with the US and some European countries, which are influenced by domestic political considerations, Saudi and Emirati economic ties with Japan are much less exposed to domestic political dynamics.
“However, one may expect a growing interest in Japan’s domestic politics among citizens of the Gulf, given the strong economic ties and, more recently, the Saudi-Japanese cooperation on Vision 2030.”


Citing jobs, Trump claims victory over virus, economic collapse

Updated 26 min 15 sec ago

Citing jobs, Trump claims victory over virus, economic collapse

  • US tops COVID-19 mortality rally with 108,000 people confirmed dead
  • Trump says more than 1 million Americans would have died had he not acted
WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump effectively claimed victory over the economic crisis and COVID-19 on Friday as well as major progress against racial inequality, heartily embracing a better-than-expected jobs report in hopes of convincing a discouraged nation he deserves another four years in office.
In lengthy White House remarks amid sweeping social unrest, a still-rising virus death toll and Depression-level unemployment, the Republican president focused on what he said was improvement in all areas.
He was quick to seize the positive jobs report at a time when his political standing is at one of the weakest points of his presidency less than five months before the general election. Just 2 in 10 voters believe the country is headed in the right direction, a Monmouth University poll found earlier in the week.
The president also addressed the protests, which have calmed in recent days, that followed the death of George Floyd, the black man who died last week when a white police officer knelt for minutes on his neck.
Claiming improvements everywhere, Trump said, “Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country. ... This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”
Trump condemned “what happened last week,” said no other president has done as much for black Americans, and declared that an economic rebound was “the greatest thing that can happen for race relations.”
Putting words in the dead man’s mouth drew quick criticism, including from likely presidential foe Joe Biden, who said it was “despicable.” The Trump campaign said any reports saying Trump was contending Floyd would be praising the economic news were “wrong, purposefully misrepresented, and maliciously crafted.”
A few blocks away, city workers painted a huge “Black Lives Matter” sign on 16th Street leading to the White House.
Politically, few things matter more to Trump’s future than the state of the US economy, which was all but shut down by state governments this spring to prevent greater spread of the deadly coronavirus. Defying health experts, the president has aggressively encouraged states to re-open and has assailed state leaders by name who resist.
At the same time, he’s taken an uneven approach to explosive racial tensions in the wake of Floyd’s death. As he has in recent days, Trump on Friday offered a sympathetic message to Floyd in one breath and lashed out at protests in his name the next.
Local governments “have to dominate the streets,” Trump said. “You can’t let what’s happening happen.”
The president spoke in the Rose Garden after the Labor Department said that US employers added 2.5 million workers to their payrolls last month. Economists had been expecting them instead to slash 8 million jobs in continuing fallout from the pandemic.
The jobless rate, at 13.3%, is still on par with what the nation witnessed during the Great Depression. And for the second straight month, the Labor Department acknowledged making errors in counting the unemployed during the virus outbreak, saying the real figure is worse than the numbers indicate.
Still, after weeks of dire predictions by economists that unemployment in May could hit 20% or more, the news was seen as evidence that the collapse may have bottomed out in April.
Friday’s report made for some tricky reaction gymnastics for Trump’s Democratic election opponent, Biden, who sought to contrast the improving figures with the fact that millions of Americans are still out of work. The high jobless rate, he said, is due to the Trump administration mishandling the response to the pandemic.
“Let’s be clear about something: The depth of this jobs crisis is not attributable to an act of God but to a failure of a president,” Biden declared in a Delaware speech shortly after Trump spoke.
The presumptive Democratic nominee said Trump was patting himself on the back as America faces some of its sternest challenges ever.
“It’s time for him to step out of his own bunker, take a look around at the consequences,” Biden said.
It’s unclear how many jobs that were lost as a result of the pandemic are permanently gone or whether the reopenings in states will create a second surge of COVID-19 deaths. In addition, the report from mid-May doesn’t reflect the effect that protests across the nation have had on business.
Many economists digging into the jobs report saw a struggle ahead after the burst of hiring last month.
Friday’s report reflected the benefits of nearly $3 trillion in government aid instead of an organic return to normal. Only one of every nine jobs lost because of the pandemic has been recovered, and the specter of corporate bankruptcies hangs over the recovery.
Much of the growth came from 2.7 million workers who were temporarily laid-off going back to their jobs. This likely reflected $510 billion in forgivable loans from the Payroll Protection Program to nearly 4.5 million employers — an administration initiative that helped push the unemployment rate down to 13.3% from 14.7% in April. African American unemployment rose slightly to 16.8 percent.
Late Friday, Trump signed legislation to add new flexibility to the PPP, giving business owners more flexibility to use taxpayer subsidies and extending the life of the program.
As the money from the PPP runs out, there could be another round of layoffs, warned Sung Won Sohn, an economist at Loyola Marymount University.
“There will be continuing residual fear and uncertainty,” Sohn said.
Trump on Friday defended his handling of the pandemic, contending that more than 1 million Americans would have died had he not acted. More than 108,000 people are confirmed to have lost their lives due to the coronavirus, according to a count from Johns Hopkins University.
Now, though, Trump said states and cities should be lifting remaining restrictions. “I don’t know why they continue to lock down,” he said of some jurisdictions that have maintained closings.
Former South Carolina Gov. and Rep. Mark Sanford, a Republican who briefly mounted a primary challenge to Trump last year, dismissed any employment gain due to federal deficit spending.
“What we have right now is federal policy aimed solely at boosting numbers that obviously would help in a reelection effort,” Sanford said in an interview. “We’re literally buying jobs.”
But there was little sign of concern among Trump and his Republican allies in Washington.
“This shows that what we’ve been doing is right,” Trump said of the jobs numbers. He added: “Today is probably the greatest comeback in American history.”
He pitched himself as key to a “rocket ship” rebound that would fail only if he doesn’t win reelection.
“I’m telling you next year, unless something happens or the wrong people get in here, this will turn around,” Trump said.