Christian Caryl

Stories by Christian Caryl

  • North Korea’s Rich-Poor Divide

    Kim Jong Il's Korea may be an impoverished nation, but a select few are finding ways of accumulating wealth.
  • Sunshine In The Dmz

    The Koreas are building a series of economic megaprojects. Peace may be a small step closer.
  • ‘The Gap Society’

    Japan still prizes social harmony, but with a hint of nostalgia now that inequality is political issue No. 1.
  • The D Word Is Back

    They call it the "D Word." For more than a decade--ever since the bubble burst in the early 1990s, sending prices for basic goods and services plummeting--Japanese prime ministers have been dreaming of a day when they could announce the end of deflation, a rare and crippling syndrome in which falling prices sap a nation's buying energy and investing confidence. Yet they also feared it. And so came the odd day in January when Japan's central bank retreated from declaring victory and decided not to raise interest rates, after members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet warned that it was too soon. Deflation still looms.New data suggest that the politicians were right to worry. At the heart of the bad news is the cost of consumer goods. For most of 2006, Japan's consumer price index (CPI) had hovered just above zero. But the figure for December, released just days after the central bank's decision, showed a slight dip. The immediate reason: a drop in oil prices, which now seem...
  • Interview: It's A Source Of Stress

    Since her husband became prime minister last September, Akie Abe--who at 44 is Japan's youngest First Lady ever--has quietly revolutionized her unofficial office with her charm, fashion flair, frankness and steady advocacy of several causes. In an interview in the prime minister's Tokyo office in January, she spoke to NEWSWEEK's Christian Caryl and Akiko Kashiwagi about how she sees her job. ...
  • The First Lady Steps Out

    The White House has boasted its share of charismatic First Ladies; think Eleanor Roosevelt or Jackie Kennedy. But Japan has never seen the like--at least before last September, when Shinzo Abe became prime minister and unleashed his charming spouse on the nation. In previous eras, the main job of a political wife was to look pleasant and stay a respectful three steps behind her man. Trying out new flower arrangements was as edgy as it got. But Akie Abe is cut from a whole new cloth. She's got something to say and she's not afraid to say it--whether in a foreign language, in her own refined Japanese or on her blog. "I don't think I'm especially open," she said recently in an exclusive NEWSWEEK interview. "But because I'm a relatively young prime minister's wife, that has given me a lot of exposure in the media, so some people may see me like that."In a country where all public figures tend to sidestep delicate topics, Mrs. Abe, 44, approaches them head on. Some commentators speculate...
  • World News Still Creeps into Burma

    The Burmese junta has been able to squelch much of the news and images flowing out of the country, but activists say news from the outside world is still getting in.
  • Visitors Wanted Now

    Creating a brand identity for any country is hard. Being honest is the first step.
  • Burma: Rebels Plan Next Steps

    Rangoon may have quieted for now, but Burmese activists say the struggle against the junta is far from over. Are their goals realistic?
  • Houses of the Hidden

    North Korea's Christians face execution for the sin of believing. But their numbers are growing.
  • Cool, Clear Water

    The forgotten virtues of Chinese foot pumps, buried aqueducts and other ancient water-supply technologies
  • Abe: Bush's Latest Victim

    Japan's Shinzo Abe has become the latest global leader to be felled by his ties to the U.S.
  • The Politics of Asia's Big Deals

    When the United States and South Korea announced their new free-trade agreement last month (details of which were released last week), the news was mainly economic. The deal, which will be the largest bilateral trade pact since NAFTA, would give American farmers and bankers alike better access to Korean consumers, and help Korean companies push more electronics, cars and textiles into the United States. Largely unreported was the political angle—the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement comes at precisely the moment when America's military presence on the Korean Peninsula is rapidly diminishing, anti-U.S. nationalism in South Korea is growing and China is playing an ever more important leadership role in the region. "This FTA is about countering China," says Yang Sung Chul, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, now professor at Korea University in Seoul. "It's much more significant in strategic than economic terms."You could say the same about any number of trade deals in Asia...
  • N. Korea: Decoding Conflicting Info on Kim

    If you're confused by the reports coming out of North Korea, you're probably not alone. Take the recent slew of conflicting reports about the health of the nation's Dear Leader. U.S. CALLS KIM JONG IL'S HEALTH A 'CONCERN,' ran one headline. The body of the story, quoting a senior U.S. official who was himself referring to reports from other unnamed officials in Seoul, alluded to a "monthlong disappearance" by Kim and noted that the North Korean dictator suffers "from advanced diabetes and heart disease as well as high blood pressure." Around the same time, another analysis claimed that Kim had recovered from these "chronic diseases." The report, which based its account on the usual anonymous senior officials in Seoul and obscure North Korea wonks, also asserted confidently, that "intelligence" in the hands of the South Korean government indicates that Kim will choose his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, as his successor.So what are we to think? Does that mean that everything we read about...
  • Onscene: The Strange, Weird World of North Korea

    I've visited a lot of places around the world, but none quite as strange as North Korea. I realized that just a few hours after our arrival in the capital city of Pyongyang, as I looked down from my box seat in the stadium where they hold the Arirang Games, a multimedia spectacle staged over several weeks every year to showcase the virtues of the North Korean system. The performance, which lasts two hours and calls upon the services of some 60,000 people, resembles a mix between a Nazi Party rally and a 1930s Hollywood musical. Dancers, gymnasts and acrobats move in perfect synchrony across a space the size of a football field while other invisible thousands in the stands behind them act as the pixels in a gigantic series of moving pictures. Thousands of flipping cards render heroically waving banners, happy citizens or the ship of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il forging its way through stormy seas. There's one especially surreal moment when the show turns to the marvels of North Korean...
  • The Road of No Return

    President Roh Moo Hyun seems hapless. But he's helped kill South Korea's imperial presidency, once and for all.
  • How to Brand a Country

    Japan may be an export powerhouse, but it has a serious problem when it comes to importing tourists. Most travelers in the world, it seems, would rather go somewhere else. In 2005, the most recent year on record, Japanese visitors to other places outnumbered inbound tourists by 60 percent. So the government decided to launch a full-barreled advertising campaign to promote the delights of Japan to an international audience. There was just one problem: the approved slogan, "Yokoso Japan!"—a perfectly nice sentiment—requires translation before the people it's aimed at understand that "yokoso" means "welcome."Creating an effective brand identity for a company is difficult. Doing the same for a country is practically impossible, and yet countries from Australia to Israel have mounted image-makeover campaigns in recent years. Israel has been promoting bikini-clad beachgoers and Tel Aviv nightlife, rather than its contested holy sites. Uganda prefers to advertise the fact that it is ...
  • Japan: The Balancing Act of Shinzo Abe

    It's been a rocky six months for Shinzo Abe. Ever since he became Japan's prime minister in September, he's struggled to buoy his plummeting popularity amid mishaps and scandals. But this month he got help from an unexpected quarter: Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who came to Tokyo to warm the two countries' frosty relations. Wen's visit, payback for a trip to Beijing Abe made shortly after coming to office, has boosted Abe's approval rating by 4.3 percent in the past month (to 44.2 percent, according to the Kyodo news agency). And it points to the one way Abe may be able to bail out his government. Though he's failed to articulate any sort of coherent domestic program, an increasingly assertive foreign policy may prove Abe's salvation.At least, he seems to hope so. Abe plans to build on Wen's visit by heading to Washington and Camp David next week, where he'll showcase his friendship with George W. Bush and reaffirm the U.S.-Japan alliance. Next, he'll fly to the Middle East,...
  • Japan's Abe Is in a Free Fall

    Shinzo Abe, Japan's nationalist prime minister, defied expectations with a strong start abroad. But now he's run into trouble at home, as his poll numbers plummet and his government slips out of control.
  • America's Unsinkable Fleet

    For an out-of-the-way spit of land in the West Pacific, Guam has been getting a lot of interesting visitors recently. First came a steady stream of Pentagon bureaucrats and senior U.S. military officers. Then, a few weeks ago, a high-ranking delegation of Japanese officials arrived. And this week the island is set to greet its most illustrious guest yet: U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney.So why all the fuss over a tropical island just 30 miles long, known mainly for its white-sand beaches and glorious sunsets? The answer: the Pentagon has begun a major redeployment of U.S. forces in the region, pulling troops and equipment out of sometimes unreliable allies and beefing up its presence in more-congenial locales. First on its list is Guam, a U.S. territory since 1898 that is fast becoming the linchpin of Washington's new Asia strategy. Current U.S. forces on the island number just a few thousand but within a decade will total well over 20,000--about the same size as the Bush...
  • Iraq's Young Blood

    Ammar will tell you he's proud to be carrying a gun. His father was a brigadier in Saddam Hussein's Army, a man who saw combat in his country's several wars, and from an early age Ammar had accompanied him to the shooting range. "I got used to the sound of guns then," Ammar says. So he was ready, last fall, when the imam in his Baghdad neighborhood urged residents to take up arms against the invader--who in this case happened to be members of a Shiite militia trying to push into the predominantly Sunni area. Ammar joined the neighborhood watch, a ragtag bunch of men who stand guard nightly at improvised roadblocks and rooftop observation posts. In mid-October Ammar fought his first big battle against soldiers from the Mahdi Army--"the garbage collectors and robbers," as he contemptuously refers to the Shiite militia. He says he put his Kalashnikov assault rifle to good use: "I think I injured or even killed two of them. Our group killed more than six of them that night."Ammar is 17...
  • A Centurion's E-mails

    Robert Secher had a passion for history. Until his death in Iraq on Oct. 8, the 33-year-old Marine could recount all the major battles of the Civil War. He studied the Holocaust, in which members of his father's family lost their lives. In recent e-mails home, he said he was reading about Vietnam and the Mexican civil war. But his favorite books were on ancient Rome: he was captivated by the centurions, who commanded from the front and led by example. "He talked about being a soldier since he was 6 years old," his mother, Elke Morris, told NEWSWEEK last week. "He wanted to be tested in battle." Secher signed up for the Marines when he was 17. He served on the Afghan border after the attacks of September 11 and later pressed for a transfer to the front lines in Iraq. He ended up in the insurgents' largest stronghold, Anbar province.His job there was one of the toughest in Iraq: making raw Iraqi recruits ready and able to take over the fight against the militants. Secher found the...
  • On Duty at the Alamo

    Officially its name is for-ward Operating Base Hope, but the 25 Americans who are stationed there call it something else: "the Alamo." Just south of their fortress is Sadr City, the immense Baghdad slum controlled by Moqtada al-Sadr and his private Mahdi Army. Although the firebrand Shiite cleric has denied any involvement in violence against the Sunnis, his stronghold has become a sanctuary for sectarian death squads. If the neighborhood boils over--as it has twice before, in 2004--millions of furious Iraqis will be standing between the Alamo's residents and the nearest U.S. reinforcements, five miles across town. The base's U.S. commander, Capt. David Baer, says he's not worried. "The militants in Sadr City don't want to fight," he says. "They'd get wiped out."Even if he's right, how long can the truce last? In an effort to stop the death squads, American units have been struggling to assert control over key Shiite neighborhoods around Baghdad. U.S. casualties have jumped...
  • Fed Up With Kim?

    Nobody likes dealing with Kim Jong Il anymore, including those countries closestto Pyongyang. South Korea, which has for years tried to placate the North, nowadays casts a more jaundiced eye on its communist brother. Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon--the leading candidate to replace Kofi Annan as secretary-general of the United Nations--said last week that he was "frustrated and disappointed" over Pyongyang's refusal to resume talks on its suspected nuclear-weapons program. And Seoul wasn't too happy with the missile tests conducted by the North in July, which embarrassed the government of Roh Moo Hyun. Ban urged Pyongyang to be "realistic" and to "start thinking about its future."Kim is not a realist (or a pragmatist), and that's why he's got another worry. China is also losing patience with him. Beijing, too, wants the North to return to the nuclear negotiating table--and to liberalize and expand its economy, as the People's Republic has done. North Korea's intransigence on both...
  • A Risky Game Of Chicken

    It's a glorious late-summer day over the East China Sea, cobalt blue ocean beneath a warm and hazy sky. But this mission is all business for the crew of a P3-C Orion flown by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces (as Tokyo refers to its Navy). Dropping down to a mere 200 meters above the waves, the plane slowly banks to peek at a yellow-and-white drilling platform anchored in the sea below. Suddenly the radio loudspeaker in the plane's cockpit crackles, and a rapid burst of Mandarin Chinese attests that the men on the rig have taken notice of the visitor. "Sometimes you can even see the Chinese flag down there," says one of the pilots.Not that either side needs a reminder of who's who. The Chunxiao gas fields in the center of the East China Sea--where Beijing is hunting for energy in waters hard against the boundary line of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claimed by Japan--are a long way from the back rooms of Tokyo. But there's no question that events in this lonely corner of...
  • Unwelcome Visits

    It's that time of the year again. "It is a matter of individual freedom as to how one offers condolences to those who died at war," wrote Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in an e-mail to his supporters last week, thus fueling speculation he may be preparing for yet another of his controversial visits to the Yasukuni Shrine--the Tokyo war memorial that honors the souls of a century's worth of Japanese war dead. Some believe that he might even make the trip on August 15, the day that marked the end of World War II 61 years ago. That would undoubtedly infuriate foreign onlookers yet again, especially in China and Korea where Yasukuni is perceived as a symbol of unrepentant militarism because the souls of a group of high-ranking war criminals are enshrined there.Koizumi's shrine visits have long provoked controversy and debate within Japan, too--and for the first time opponents may be poised to win the highly charged argument. For one thing, Koizumi himself will step off the...
  • High Convenience

    Noritsugu Miyazaki is a clerk in a convenience store. Slacker job, right? Not. Miyazaki works for Family Mart in Japan, where the seemingly mundane task of running such stores has been raised to the level of a high and demanding art. Miyazaki, 22, does more than sell drinks and snacks. He also helps patrons with dry cleaning, package delivery and DVD rentals. He can accept payment for utility bills and issue tickets to Tokyo Disneyland, baseball games or movies. And when it's time to restock inventory, Miyazaki transmits his orders with the help of a tablet computer he carries with him as he walks the aisles. The computer's touchscreen can summon up details of individual products, sales data going back for weeks, even weather reports. "Stock up on plastic umbrellas," the computer admonishes him. "Rain is on the way." "It's pretty difficult," says Miyazaki. "I'm looking for a different job, to be honest."Welcome to the demanding world of Japanese convenience stores. In other parts of...
  • Clouds on The Horizon

    Talk about open secrets. For weeks now, North Korean technicians have been preparing a site for the launch of a ballistic missile. In Washington, national-security adviser Stephen Hadley warned Pyongyang that launching a missile would expose North Korea to the unspecified wrath of the United States; in Tokyo, a senior Japanese politician echoed the vague threat.And what about South Korea? Most people there have completely ignored the launch, opting instead to cheer their team through the World Cup. Oh, yes, and then there was the celebration in Kwangju, where delegates from the two Koreas gathered to celebrate the sixth anniversary of a historic summit between their leaders that marked the beginning of the "Sunshine Policy" --the South's program of proactive support for its economically prostrate communist sibling. Meanwhile, the South's radical university-student association, in a directive to student councils, called for "escalation of the wave of anti-American struggles."Seoul...