Japan Focus has some interesting articles this week. First is an insightful piece on North Korea as the canary in the coal mine for the coming food crisis….

….At the time, of course, all the knowing analysts and pundits dismissed what was happening in that country as the inevitable breakdown of an archaic economic system presided over by a crackpot dictator.

They were wrong. The collapse of North Korean agriculture in the 1990s was not the result of backwardness. In fact, North Korea boasted one of the most mechanized agricultures in Asia. Despite claims of self-sufficiency, the North Koreans were actually heavily dependent on cheap fuel imports. (Does that already ring a bell?) In their case, the heavily subsidized energy came from Russia and China, and it helped keep North Korea’s battalion of tractors operating. It also meant that North Korea was able to go through fertilizer, a petroleum product, at one of the world’s highest rates. When the Soviets and Chinese stopped subsidizing those energy imports in the late 1980s and international energy rates became the norm for them, too, the North Koreans had a rude awakening.

Andre Vltchek has a fantastic piece on the staggeringly depressing situation of America Samoa. And Hamish McDonald points to the possibility of a China-Japan security axis over East Asia.

Finally, very heartening is this well-rounded piece in the Daily Yomiuri which discusses the decline of Taiwan-Japan relations. Not only does it do a good job describing the politics of the DPP and the KMT, it also takes the position that this is a bad thing. I’m informed that in the Japanese media the dominant voices do not want Taiwan to “drag” Japan into a war with China. An excerpt:

According to sources involved in bilateral affairs, under the pro-Japan administration of Ma’s predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, bilateral ties were at their warmest since Japan severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1972. Ma–who assumed office in May–repeatedly stressed his intent to maintain this solid relationship.

However, Taiwan’s criticism of Japan has intensified since a Taiwan fishing boat sank in waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea on June 10.

Pressured by pro-China Nationalists who favor a hard-line approach toward Japan, Ma dispatched nine patrol boats to the waters off the Senkaku Islands to ratchet up awareness of Taiwan’s sovereign claim on the Senkaku Islands, known as Tiaoyutai in Taiwan. As a result, tensions rose dramatically between Japan and Taiwan.

Unlike former Presidents Lee Teng-hui and Chen, both of whom avoided playing hardball with Tokyo over the territorial issue, the Taiwan patrol boats’ incursion into the disputed waters has highlighted Ma’s brusque approach toward Japan.

The nature of the problem lies in differences in historical perception between the Nationalist Party and the Democratic Progressive Party.

Ma has not been in power 40 days and already this has happened. So much for promises not to be a troublemaker…