SUNSTAR Press Digest, October 22, 2016 No 6

In this week’s digest
1   The Wheels come off the Brexit Bus?
2   US to Have First Woman President?
3   Thailand: King Bhumibol of Thailand Dies Aged 88
4   China:  Xi to defy second term ban?
5   Thinking Computers
6   IOC Could Agree to Tokyo Request to Move Events to South Korea
7   World Economic Forum: Corruption and Competitivity
8   Philippine President unsettles Japan and US by cozying up to China 
9   “Ab Fab” star does Japan Travel Show


1 The Wheels Coming Off the Brexit Bus?
Three UK Prime Ministers have been destroyed by the Europe question already, will Theresa May be number 4? At  the Annual Conservative Party Conference May played to the gallery and won the applause of the faithful for her hardline speech on Brexit , but the financial markets reacted badly crashing Sterling to a 35 year low. Her problems increased when Nissan, BMW and the London banking sector warned the PM  she was risking the country’s prosperity. May’s Cabinet is divided between the “Hard Brexiters” that want control of immigration at the expense of access to the  EU Single Market and the “Soft Brexiters” who believe access to the EU market is essential. The Tories had thought that the Referendum would deal with the issue of Europe once and for all, instead it is still dividing their party and now it also dividing the country.

Things are not going well for the government. In the last week they had to concede to the Parliament that they would have the right to scrutinise the Brexit deal, and then one of the government’s own lawyers accepted that Parliament would have to vote on the final deal. With a majority of MPs supporting staying in the European Union  the result could go against the government.

This week May attends her first EU Summit since becoming PM. Attitudes in Europe are hardening. EU President Tusk said the Brits cannot have their cake and eat it too. He invited them to buy a cake eat it and see what is left on the plate. Meanwhile European Parliament President Martin Schulz said that it would not be possible to have freedom of movement of capital and goods without the freedom of movement of people too.
The Economist: Brexit Explained.  (An excellent guide)

2   US to Have First Woman President? 
The debates are over and we are in the last 18 days of the election campaign. Donald Trump has had a rough month with the publication of his sex talk tapes and Hillary Clinton is looking more Presidential every day.  Trump has refused to say if he will accept the result of the election if he loses, he called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” and he almost seems to have realised that he has lost the race. With 18 days to go anything can happen, but for now it looks like the US will get its first woman President.

There is another country that had a rich businessman go for the top job and he too was laughed at at first. He too was embroiled in tax and sex scandals, but Silvio Berlusconi went on to be one of Italy’s longest serving premiers. Whatever happens on November 9th it will not be last we hear from Donald Trump. Already there is talk that he is planning to set up an online TV station. It is sobering to acknowledge that after all the revelations, his poor performance in the debates and his apparent lack of preparedness for the nation’s highest office, that he still has an unshakeable 37% base of support.
We have seen Donald Trump Before his name was Silvio Berlusconi.

3   King Bhumibol of Thailand Dies aged 88
The Thai king, the world’s longest reigning monarch, died at the age of 88.  He is generally regarded to have strengthened the monarchy during his long reign. The official mourning is likely to last a year.  BBC Obituary  There are concerns that his son Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn who has been named as his successor may not be up to the job.  Thailand’s prime minister announced that Vajiralongkorn had asked for time to mourn with his country before he acceding to the throne.

Some observers would have preferred to have sister Princess Sirindhorn, but the Thai constitution stipulates a male heir. The Crown Prince, a womanising, three times married playboy, made his pet poodle Foo Foo an air chief marshal. Prince Maha has shown no interest in politics or public duties, on the contrary, his antics have proved to be highly embarrassing to his father and the to monarchy.

4   China: Xi Jinping to defy 10 Year Term convention?
According to three sources close to top Chinese Communist Party  officials, Xi and several top aides are making plans to ensure that China’s  strongman will rule until at least 2027, when he will still be a relatively sprightly 74 years old.(See China Digital Times)

Mr Xi’s efforts to enforce ideological conformity and personal loyalty have earned comparisons to Mao Zedong’s attempts to build a cult of personality. This has sparked a backlash from some Chinese journalists and commentators. However Xi’s dominance of Chinese political and public life is absolute.

5   Thinking Computers
Up to now computers have been able to solve problems when the information they needed was already contained within their network. That is how Apple’s Siri works, but this is now changing.  Google’s Artificial Intelligence arm, the London based tech group Deep Mind, has made a breakthrough by building what they have called a “differentiable neural computer”, or DNC.  This new breed of computer can for  the first time solve small-scale problems without any prior knowledge. The DNC, for example,  was able to plan the best route between distant stations on a rail system without having  knowledge of the network. What is new and revolutionary about this computer is that it learns in a way similar to the human brain and stores the new information to use at a future time.  Read More

6   International Olympic Committee  Could Agree to Tokyo’s Request to Reduce Costs. 
Newly elected Tokyo Governor, former TV personality, Yuriko Koike is determined to rein in the cost of hosting the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, reputed to top 3 trillion Yen. This is four times the original estimate and three times more than the London Games. One option being considered is to move the rowing and canoeing events to South Korea.

Tokyo won its bid by promising a compact Games with 28 of the 31 competition venues within a five-mile radius of the Olympic village. Its bid stated that only venues for shooting and modern pentathlon, and one football stadium, would be located outside the radius.  Read More

7   World Economic Forum:  Corruption and Competitivety Rankings.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) research finds that 9 EU countries feature in the top 11 most corrupt OECD countries. Mexico is No1 and South Korea is at No 9, but the rest of the top 11 are all in the EU. The nine countries are  Italy, Spain, Greece, Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic, Latvia,  Slovenia and Hungary.

The WEF report on global competitiveness also makes for interesting reading. (See page 13) Switzerland, Singapore and the US lead the field. The Netherlands and Germany are at the top of the EU group. Japan has slipped to 8th place, whereas the UK’s 7th place does not look that secure following the Brexit vote.

8  Philippino President Cozying to China: Threat to Japan and US
On his official visit to China last week, Philippino President Rodrigo Duterte said  “America has lost now, I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world — China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”
Duterte’s comments risk disrupting not just US-Philippines ties, but US ties to the larger Asia-Pacific, a region that Obama has made a central pillar of his foreign policy ambitions.  It is also deeply worrying to Japan where Duterte is due to be next week. PM Shinzo Abe will want assert to his guest the importance of maintaining a strong alliance with the US in the face of China’s territorial ambitions.

Duterte’s apparent cozying up to Beijing has both Tokyo and Washington worried that the commitment under former Philippine President Benigno Aquino to stand up to China in the hotly disputed South China Sea waterway is under threat.  Aquino angered China by lodging a case with an arbitration court in the Hague challenging the legitimacy of Beijing’s maritime claims in the resource-rich sea.  The ruling earlier this year emphatically favoured Manila but was rejected by China, which has repeatedly warned the United States and Japan to stay out of the dispute.  Read More: Reuters

9  “Ab Fab Star does Japan Travel Show.  
One of the the UK’s most popular TV channels has given much prominence to a three part programme on Japan fronted by one of the country’s most popular actors. Joanna Lumley, star of “Ab Fab” and  a UK National Treasure. Few politicians dare go against her because the public love her so.

Lumley travelled all the way from Hokkaido to the beautiful Pacific island of Kohama. Of her travels in Japan, she said: “Isn’t it odd, we feel we are so familiar with Japan, with sushi and Toshiba, kimonos and Hello Kitty, tsunamis and sake… and yet when we travelled around that spectacular country I couldn’t even guess at the unknown wonders that were in store for us. Every moment was thrilling, fascinating and often very moving. With my hand on my heart I can say: please come with me… to Japan!”

Then show was watched by millions and viewers were so moved that one newspaper decreed that readers wanted her to be the new Foreign Secretary for the United Kingdom.  The three episodes are now also available on DVD from Amazon and Episode 3 can still be seen on ITV.   No doubt the show will encourage many people from the Uk to visit Japan.