All posts by blogsonjapan

Advancing ASEAN’s digital economy

Author: Phidel Vineles, RSIS

As the 2018 ASEAN Chair, Singapore deserves high praise for driving forward a resilient and innovative ASEAN community as well as bringing about several agreements designed to invigorate the region’s digital economy.

A salesperson serves a customer at a Samsung phone showroom in Jakarta, Indonesia, 26 January 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Beawiharta).

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One of these was the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN). The ASCN is envisioned as a collaborative platform of cities across ASEAN that work together towards the goal of smart and sustainable urban development. ASEAN’s first e-commerce agreement, which aims to spur the use of e-commerce as a driver of regional economic growth, was also inked in 2018. The e-commerce agreement will help the region to realise the projected growth of ASEAN’s internet economy to US$200 billion by 2025.

ASEAN should adopt another ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) pillar devoted to engaging with the increasing role of digital technologies in commerce and industry. Developing a harmonised approach would help to streamline the necessary policies for enhancing ASEAN’s digital competitiveness.

There are existing frameworks and regulations designed for the development of the digital economy in ASEAN. For example, the ASEAN Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Masterplan 2020 underscores ICT’s role in supporting regional connectivity and development. The AEC Blueprint 2025 similarly includes e-commerce under its main pillar of enhanced connectivity and sectoral cooperation.

The AEC Blueprint 2025 also notes the importance of accelerating technological advancements in international production, trade and investment practices, and calls for …continue reading


7-Eleven Removing Storefront Ashtrays Across Tokyo

Source: Gaijin Pot

As 2018 wraps up and we come one year closer to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, government policies and company initiatives to encourage better health are on the rise.

In one such move, the convenience store chain Seven-Eleven Japan, owned by retail giant Seven & i Holdings Co., announced that they will be removing smoking ashtrays from storefronts of their Tokyo locations, according to the Nihon Keizai Shinbun as reported on Dec. 1.

Since a Tokyo Assembly meeting held last June, there has been increased pressure on the company to reduce secondhand smoking at their stores by removing ashtrays and banning smoking near entrances. Of its 2,700 stores in the city, 1,000 of them have ashtrays outside the front. If the campaign is successful, Seven-Eleven will carry out removal nationwide.

It’s no wonder this is a concern, as according to a recent government survey nearly 40 percent of nonsmokers experience secondhand smoke. While the overall rate of smokers in Japan has declined to less than 20 percent this year, passive smoking accounts for around 15,000 deaths of Japanese citizens annually.

And yet, up until now the only industry making major changes to its smoking policies has been restaurants. However, these changes have been forced on the industry by the government and with strong pushback from pro-tobacco interests and political parties. In accordance to a law passed last April more than 80 percent of restaurants banned smoking, but until Seven-Eleven Japan’s recent announcement, other industries haven’t followed suit.

But now other industries will be looking at the data and considering what is the more profitable way to go. Will banning smoking and removing ashtrays lose more smoking customers, or gain more nonsmoking customers? This is a big question for Seven-Eleven moving forward considering that 96 percent of their stores sell cigarettes, which account for 25% …continue reading


Sake Diary - Sennen Kojiya: Iidabashi


Run by Niigata’s famous Hakkaisan sake brewery, this specialty shop mainly sells food and drink featuring koji, the rice mold that’s an essential part of the sake-brewing process. It’s also offically an antenna shop for the city of Uonuma, Niigata, where Hakkaisan is located. Some highlights of the shop’s products include koji-marinated fish (sold frozen), koji-infused ponzu and other sauces, and a colorful range of pickled vegetables.

They also stock a full line of Hakkaisan sake, including mini-size bottles, plus Hakkaisan craft beers and amazake. The shop’s cafe window dispenses amazake, koji-infused matcha lattes, and kojified smoothies in kiwi, banana and tomato flavors. …continue reading


China’s response to Belt and Road backlash

Author: Ye Yu, SIIS

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is facing strong criticism abroad. US Vice President Mike Pence accused China of using ‘so-called “debt diplomacy” to expand its influence’. Former German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said China was using the BRI to ‘promote a value system different from the West’. India declares that the initiative harms its sovereignty. Others attack the BRI for not meeting ‘international standards’ on environmental and social sustainability, procurement, anti-corruption and transparency, pricing and debt sustainability.

China’s President Xi Jinping attends the plenary session at the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1 December 2018 (Photo: G20 Reuters/Argentina/Handout).

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Many of the accusations serve geopolitical or economic purposes. They are not always logically coherent. Responsibilities of Chinese businesses are confused with those of the government. Some cases are also exaggerated or misunderstood. Contrary to dominant narratives, roads and power plants built and financed by Chinese companies are not known for being of lower quality compared to others. Some of the standards Chinese companies set and follow are world leading. Green financing policies implemented by the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, for instance, are considered as an example for others to adopt.

Overall, though, China’s government and companies are still on a learning curve. The strong backlash against the BRI is leading them to reflect on their business and investment practices, both at home and abroad. The general response from Beijing so far has been to dismiss international suspicions — Xi explained that the BRI is …continue reading