Asia in Review Archive (2017)


Date of AiR edition

News summary

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29 December 2017

Japan/Korea: Issue of comfort women still looming

South Korea’s Prime Minister Moon Jae-in called the country’s 2015 agreement with Japan to settle a decades-long impasse over the so-called comfort women “seriously flawed”. Moon’s statement, in which he vows unspecified follow-up measures to meet the victims’ demands, potentially throws the future of the deal in doubt, two years after both countries declared it final. The government of Japan announced that it wanted to stick to the existing agreement [The Japan Times].

29 December 2017

Japan: Security and economic ties in Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean increased

(ls) Japan and Australia are close to agreeing a visiting forces agreement (VFA), which would foster smooth military operations between the two countries. A VFA comprehensively stipulates the legal status of foreign forces engaged in temporary activities, such as joint exercises and disaster-relief missions, in a nation’s territory [The Sydney Morning Herald].

In economic terms, Japan has returned to be the top foreign investor in Vietnam in 2017, pushing South Korea on the second rank after a three-year gap. Japanese investment more than tripled to a record $9.11 billion, accounting for a quarter of the total. Infrastructure exports were a major driver of Japanese spending. South Korea was the top foreign investor in Vietnam from 2014 to 2016 as, for instance, Samsung Electronics set up massive smartphone production facilities in the north [Nikkei Asian Review].

Japan and Oman seek to ensure maritime order amid China’s assertiveness. An agreement was reached as Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his counterpart Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah met in the Omani capital of Muscat, about 500 km southeast of the Strait of Hormuz, which is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes for crude oil [Japan Times].

22 December 2017

Japan: Ruling Liberal Democratic Party divided over scope of constitutional change

While Prime Minister Abe hailed the intended revision of Japan’s constitution and especially the constitution’s Art. 9 as a ‘rebirth’ of the Nation, the party, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is struggling internally to find a consensus on whether to pursue moderate or drastic changes. The former would add to Art. 9 a reference to the term “self-defense forces” (SDF) to formally acknowledge the role of the SDF in the constitution. The latter foresee the deletion of the Article 9’s second paragraph that prohibits Japan to maintain military forces and other war potential [Asahi Shimbun][The Japan Times].

15 December 2017

Democratic Party on the brink of dissolution?

Following the devastating developments around the snap election in October, when all Democratic Party Lower House members defected the Party just days ahead of the election, and facing a current support rate down at 1.8, the Democratic Party is in an existential crisis. In this situation and in the light of the 2019 election for the Upper House, in which the party is currently holding 45 seats, the party’s President has now come forward with drastic proposals for organizational changes. Among them was even the option of the disbandment of the party [The Japan Times].

8 December 2017

China-Japan relations: Signs of improvement

Reflecting slowly improving ties between China and Japan, both countries agreed on Wednesday to set up communication mechanisms aimed at preventing maritime and aerial clashes in and above disputed areas of the East China Sea [The Asahi Shimbun].

1 December 2017

Growing support for China’s Belt and Road?

The Japanese Government is considering supporting companies that intend to have joint development projects with companies from the China under the Belt and Road framework. Amidst difficult Japan-China relations, the Japanese government will remain cautious about Chinese regional intentions but economic cooperation and the common security threat from the Korean peninsula could bring the countries closer together. There also continues to be movement on the vital issues in the East China Sea. A continuation of talks and cooperation is supposedly scheduled for early next month [The Japan News] [Global Times] [The Japan Times].

1 December 2017

Transregional cooperation: Vietnam-Australia, Singapore-India, and the “Asian NATO”

The Vietnam National Assembly backs the upgrade of the Vietnam-Australia relationship to a strategic partnership. Australia is among Vietnam’s largest providers of non-refundable official development assistance. The National Assembly’s Chairwoman also “noted with joy”  the effective collaboration in national defence-security and the fight against crimes and illegal migration [Vietnam News].

India and Singapore on Wednesday signed an agreement to deepen cooperation in maritime security and called for ensuring freedom of navigation in critical sea lanes in the backdrop of China’s increasing assertiveness in the region. The two sides also signed the revised Defence Cooperation Agreement to further strengthen the longstanding defence relationship between the Singapore Armed Forces and the Indian Armed Forces. Moreover, Singapore’s proposal to expand the Code of Unplanned Encounters at Sea to all ADMM (Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting)-Plus countries as well as to establish guidelines for air encounters between military aircraft was discussed too [Livemint].

Moreover, the US, Japan, Australia and India announced this month they had agreed to create a coalition that would patrol and exert influence on waterways from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific to the East and South China Seas. The grouping of the four countries – known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad – was first suggested by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007, but the idea was dropped after Beijing protested. It made a sudden comeback when senior officials from the four nations met in Manila on November 11 – on the sidelines of regional summits during US President Donald Trump’s maiden tour to East Asia [South China Morning Post].

1 December 2017

Japan: Disaster reduction equipment gifts to Maldives

In a move certain to be viewed through the lens of regional economic and political competition, Japan has gifted equipment for protection against natural disasters to the Republic of the Maldives. Despite China’s increasing economic inroads into this island nation, the Maldives considers Japan a key ally, and it has been one of the biggest contributors to Maldives’ development over the past five decades. During high-level talks this week, Japan and the Maldives are discussing future cooperation, to include increasing Japanese trade, investments, and tourism in the Maldives, counter-terrorism as well as other fields of cooperation [Mihaaru].

24 November 2017

Japan-China relations: East China Sea tensions

Prime Minister Abe last week expressed his determination to strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities and push for the development of own missiles capable of striking targets on land and at sea to defend the country’s sovereignty on remote islands [South China Morning Post]. The expected Chinese reaction followed shortly: On Saturday and Sunday Chinese military and intelligence aircraft flew through international airspace between the Japanese islands of Okinawa and Miyako in the East China Sea prompting Tokyo to scramble jet fighters [The Diplomat]. In a related move, Chinese bombers and jets were detected flying over the Bashi Channel located between Taiwan and the Philippines on Thursday [Reuters].

24 November 2017

Japan-Philippine relations: Increasing Tokyo’s military assistance

In a move deepening the security cooperation between Japan and the Philippines, Manila has commissioned three new vessels from Japan. This commission follows an earlier order of 10 patrol ships on the basis of an official development loan from Tokyo [The Diplomat].

17 November 2017

Abe’s competitor in retreat

After the loss at the general elections, former challenger to Abe’s premiership Yuriko Koike has stepped down as leader of the Party of Hope, which she had founded only two months ago. She has now said she will focus on governing Tokyo, rather than attempting to become PM. What the future of her party holds without her at the top is questionable as public support for the part has already dropped significantly right after the election [Financial Times].

17 November 2017

India and the US: Natural allies and the re-emergence of the quadrilateral coalition

In wake of the US-Indian rapprochement on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Manila, India, the US, Japan, and Australia have held their first meeting to revive their coalition, ‘the quad’, with the explicit aim to ensure an open Indo-Pacific zone. The respective public statements highlight the major objectives — beside the ultimate goal to contain China: upholding the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific, freedom of navigation and overflight, increasing connectivity, countering terrorism and upholding maritime security. Remarkably, while the US, Australia and Japan also emphasized talks on the DPRK nuclear issue, India, still fostering relations with Pyongyang, skipped the discussion on North Korea in its respective readout [Times of India].

In the context of the rapprochement, the US have announced significant statements on the new partnership such as the White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary, the highest-ranking Indian-American ever in the White House press wing ever, telling Indian reporters that “India is a natural ally of the United States” while stressing the particular good personal relationships between both country´s leaders Trump and Modi [Economic Times].

More remarkable have been U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson’s words on India before he visited the country recently talking about a “profound transformation that’s taking place, one that will have far-reaching implications for the next 100 years: The United States and India are increasingly global partners with growing strategic convergence” and both nations being “two bookends of stability — on either side of the globe — standing for greater security and prosperity for our citizens and people around the world”. Even more remarkably, the national interest has scaled the respective speech the “most prominent speech since taking office” [National Interest].

Reinforcing Tillerson’s  words, President Trump, in his speech on the US strategy towards Asia at the APEC Summit in Vietnam, highlighted the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific region and announced US support of India’s membership in the APEC as the world’s seventh and Asia’s third largest economy [Forbes].

17 November 2017

China-Japan/ROK: A new start for bilateral ties?

With both Abe and Xi having consolidated their positions of strength at home, and a common interest in controlling the situation in North Korea – if out of very different motivations – the time for a potential improvement in Japan-China ties is better than it has been in years [Japan Times]. Despite talks held at the sidelines of the recent APEC meeting in Vietnam, and Xi reportedly foreseeing a “new start” in bilateral relations there, the relationship is still heavily fraught. China’s growing naval ambitions may well rekindle the somewhat dormant conflict in the East China Sea, whilst Abe is making a point out of defying some of Beijing’s parameters by for example meeting a Taiwan official almost directly after meeting Xi [Bloomberg]. The North Korean nuclear threat also proves helpful to a careful, ongoing détente between China and South Korea, who have agreed on a visit by the South Korean president to China in December [Reuters].

10 November 2017

Talks on constitutional revision to be resumed

The constitution-amending task force of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) announced to resume discussions on the revision of the constitution after its work had been disrupted by the snap election. Whether the panel’s plan to submit an amendment bill by early next year can be realized is questionable as parts of the LDP and its coalition party Komeito remain opposed to the revision of the war-renouncing Art. 9 of the constitution [The Japan Times].

10 November 2017

Legal Adulthood at 18?

The Abe administration has announced to push for an amendment of the Civil Code to lower legal age of adulthood from 20 to 18 years which would permit 18 years- and 19 years-olds to marry and sign contracts for high-priced goods and services without the need to provide parental approval. Gambling, smoking and alcohol consumption, however, would be excluded [The Japan Times].

10 November 2017

Japan: Increasing pressure on Pyongyang

In a show of force directed against North Korea, Japan’s Military Defense Force conducted trilateral exercises with US and Indian vessels in the Sea of Japan, short before President Trump’s Asia trip [The Japan Times]. In a related move, Tokyo announced further sanctions against Pyongyang, including the freezing of assets of organizations and individuals [The Asahi Shimbun].

3 November 2017

Abe’s planned revision of the constitution faces strong opposition

Despite the overwhelming victory in the Lower House election, securing Prime Minister Abe a robust two thirds majority, his intended revision of Art. 9 of the constitution renouncing war as the sovereign right of Japan appears far from being a sure-fire success in the light of 40 000 protesters rallying against Abe’s plan in Tokyo on the occasion of the 71st anniversary of the promulgation of the constitution and latest surveys revealing a majority of the population opposing the constitutional change [The Japan Times 1][The Japan Times 2].

3 November 2017

What is conservatism, liberalism in Japan?

Japan’s latest House of Representatives election was said to be a battle among three forces: the ruling parties such as the LDP and two major “start ups”. Kibo no To (Party of Hope) was launched under the banner of the “conservatives working for reform,” while leftist and liberal-minded members of the Democratic Party formed the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. Yet, in Japan today, what is a conservative and what is a liberal? The Yomiuri Shimbun asked two experts to explain these terms in the light of Japan’s changing demographics and societal norms [Yomiuri Shimbun].

3 November 2017

Japan foreign policy: The Philippines, Russia 

Japan has pledged to provide assistance for the Philippines as it rebuilds Marawi City in its Southern Mindanao as well as help with other projects ranging from rail infrastructure to river defences. Japan is concerned about China’s growing power in the South China Sea and sees cooperation with the Philippines, which lies on the waterway’s eastern side, as key ally in helping prevent Beijing’s influence spreading into the western Pacific [Asian Correspondent]. China has previously pledged to provide over US$24 billion in development aid and investment largely for infrastructure development. Some analysts, however, suggest Beijing may be withholding the funds until the bilateral relationship is more firmly consolidated, including in regard to unresolved territorial disputes in the South China Sea [Asia Times]. Meanwhile, Japan and Russia have agreed to set up a task force to jointly develop tourism and four other businesses on disputed islands controlled by Russia but claimed by Tokyo. Japan hopes joint economic activities will pave the way for settling a decades-old territorial row with Russia, while Moscow aims to attract Japanese investment to the underdeveloped islets off Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido. [Kyodo News]. Russia, for its part, is increasingly wielding oil as a geopolitical tool, spreading its influence around the world and challenging the interests of the United States. Through the state oil giant Rosneft, Moscow is trying to build influence in places where the United States has stumbled or power is up for grabs [The New York Times].

28 October 2017

Abe wins snap election

Prime Minister Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party gained a landslide victory in the Lower House election of last Sunday. Together with Komeito Party, Abe leads a coalition with a 2/3 majority enabling him to now realize his long-held plan to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution Further ex-pected major policies include increased govern-ment spending on economic policies and social security [Asahi Shimbun] [Reuters] [The Japan Times].

28 October 2017

India: An old, new pivot in the Great Game

India is shifting from a mere fringe position in global politics to the role of a central and active player that aims to significantly shaping the new emerging Asian security order. As it seems to find itself relentlessly caught up in competition with China, the Modi administration advances its regional presence, connectivity and influence in all directions. Its multi-alignment approach includes aligned powers like the US, Australia and Japan, South Asia, and Southeast Asia while it also keeps good relations with its old ally Russia. An impressive line-up of projects to strengthen links within and to South and Southeast Asia is subject of the first article looking at a number of mega cross-border air and land connectivity projects and energy initiatives as just agreed in Bangladesh and generally aiming at countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka in South Asia as well as in the South East Asia with Japan as a key partner in this process [The Economic Times 1].  Arguably the most important element of the new Indian foreign policy assertiveness are the Indian-US ties. After US Defense Secretary Mattis has visited India last month, the recent Indian-US foreign minister meeting expressed the US acknowledgment of India as a “leading power”, a democracy and the US interest to enhance India’s status as a ‘major defense partner’. The ‘Major Defense Partner’ status that has been given by the Obama Administration provides for deeper defense cooperation including technology transfer which culminated last year in a crucial logistics defense pact that enables the countries’ military to use each other’s assets and bases for repair and replenishment of supplies. After Mattis’ recent talks on India’s role in Afghanistan and the issue of Pakistani support for Islamic terrorism which were now continued on the sidelines of the ASEAN defense ministers meeting in the Philippines, Tillerson and his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj touched on India’s remaining diplomatic presence in North Korea and its ties to Iran, while highlighting the mutual interests in expanding maritime cooperation and alternatives to China’s Belt and Road Initiative as already proceeded by India and Japan in form of the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor project. Tillerson also offered “the best” of its military technology to India with current military US-Indian cooperation projects including a deal about US Sea Guardian drones and a program on ‘Helicopter Operations from Ships other Than Aircraft Carriers’ (HOSTAC). The momentum of US-Indian relations which is likely to turn out to exert growing impact on the overall alignment of regional ordering is already affirmed by the much recent Japanese proposal to have top-level dialogues between Japan the US, India and Australia to promote free trade and defense cooperation. The 31st ASEAN and East Asia Summit in the second week of November which is expected to bring together US President Trump, Japanese Prime Minister Abe and Chinese President Xi will have to be carefully watched in this respect [The Christian Science Monitor, ABC News, The Economic Times 2]. While India faces its biggest national security challenge with Pakistan and China steadily growing closer, the US-Indian rapprochement is, however, both inevitable as complicated. While the democratic form of government and English as a common lingua franca are often highlighted as assets, there is a noteworthy Indian identity discourse stressing the superiority of Indian culture and its non-materialistic values against claimed degenerations of neo-liberal capitalism. Currently the issue manifests in a dispute between American free trade versus Indian health care interests [The Wire]. It has also been noted in India that the US will remain reliant on Pakistan for logistical support for its Afghan engagement and that the Trump administration – in contrast to Japan’s Prime Minister Abe – has refrained from any statement in support of India throughout its most serious confrontation with China in the recent Dokhlam stand-off [The Indian Express]. Central for the future of the US-Indian partnership will be the spaces for pursuing India’s national interest with the Afghan theater and India’s carefully cherished ties to Iran as an testing field. Crucial as the elephant in the room will be its ties to Russia. Celebrating 70 years of diplomatic ties between India and Russia, the Vice Chief of the Indian Air Force recently noteworthy stressed regarding military technology transfers that Russia’s offered “everything they have from the heart without any strings attached” and highlighted the scope for further deepening the military ties [The Economic Times 3]. In fact, Russia has provided the largest part of India’s heavy weaponry since times when the USA didn’t consider India as a noteworthy security partner. With the Indian Air Force planning to acquire a fleet of single engine fighter jets Russia will soon be invited to bid against Swedish Saab and US Lockheed Martin offers. Yet, while India’s Defense Production Secretary encourages Russian defense firms to come forward for entering into strategic partnerships with Indian companies for developing defense platforms, France and India are currently enhancing their defense cooperation. The visit of the French Defense Minister to Delhi last week was part of India’s attempt to bolster its strategic cooperation in defense with respect to maritime security in the Indian Ocean but also saw the French minister attending the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the Dassault-Reliance Aerospace manufacturing facility. Established under a joint venture in the wake of a Rafale fighter jets sale to India with some critical parts to be made in India for later assembly in France, the facility seems to be able to be developed to completely manufacture own Indian jets in the future. Generally, western weapons are more expensive than Russians and often come with less favorable conditions while Pakistan and China will remain major buyers of Russian weapons [The Economic Times 4].

28 October 2017

ASEAN Defense Ministers Meetings

The ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) and ASEAN Defense Minister Meeting- Plus have taken place in Manial this week. Whilst the agenda was expectedly broad, there was a clear focus on terrorism [The Diplomat]. Singapore, as next ASEAN chair, has vowed to keep the fight of violent extremism exemplified by the recent Marawi siege on top of the agenda [The Strait Times 1]. The terrorist threat is magnified by potentially radical fighters who return to their home countries from fighting in the Middle East as ISIS there is nearly defeated and keeps losing ground [The Strait Times 2]. The South China Sea was also on the agenda. There was agreement to keep working on a common Code of Conduct as well as a general openness by China, the US and Japan to commence naval exercises with ASEAN and to improve communications and work out a protocol for unplanned encounters at sea to reduce risk of conflict [Today Online and Bloomberg]. The full joint declaration can be found here [Singapore MINDEF].

28 October 2017

Japan: US combat aircraft to be deployed in Okinawa

In a move reflecting ongoing tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons tests the US Air Force has announced that 12 US F-35A stealth fighters will be deployed at the Okinawa Kedena Airbase in Okinawa in November [The Japan Times].

20 October 2017

Last minute, very regulated campaigning ahead of Sunday’s poll

With the snap elections coming up on Sunday, Japan’s parties are on the last stretch of their campaign trail. Expectations fuelled by surveys conducted ahead of the poll suggest a win for PM Abe’s coalition government. Whilst Abe’s relation to US President Trump is comparatively stable, it is interesting to note that according to a recent survey conducted by the Washington based PEW research centre, overall support for the US in Japan has dropped to a nine-year low [The Straits Times] [The Japan Times].

20 October 2017

North Korean nuclear weapons: Diplomats talk strategy, defense industry cashes in

Diplomats from the United States, South Korea and Japan met in Seoul on Wednesday to discuss how to respond to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said that Washington continues to view diplomacy as the primary means for solving the crisis, but added that the allies must be prepared for “any eventuality” [USA Today]. The constant missile and nuclear threats have racked regional tensions sky-high, but they are a boon for South Korea’s burgeoning defense industry. International military attention has increasingly focused on Seoul’s forces and equipment. The country’s missiles, howitzers, submarines and warplanes are especially popular in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and South America [Inquirer].

13 October 2017

PM Shinzo Abe: Election to decide who leads Japan amid North Korean threat

Japan’s Prime Minister Abe says he called for new House elections due to increasing tensions with North Korea, stating “this general election is to decide who will handle the current situation.” He hopes to obtain a mandate from the Japanese people to deal with this threat, and use venues such as United States President Donald Trump’s first scheduled visit to Japan in November and the subsequent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summits to exert more pressure on North Korea. He also seeks a mandate to ensure the Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF) has clear recognition in Article 9 of the Constitution [japan-forward].

13 October 2017

New satellite gives global edge in pinpointing locations

With its latest satellite launch, Japan is taking a leap in technology to keep its self-driving cars in their highway lanes, land delivery drones on matchbox-sized targets — and potentially help destroy North Korean missile sites. Under its new system, geo-location satellites will hover directly above Japan, fixing the problem in the country’s dense urban areas of existing GPS signals occasionally being blocked by tall buildings. Tokyo is also studying military uses as the nation eases restrictions on its armed forces in the face of growing challenges from North Korea and China [wsj].

13 October 2017

Japan and China send sweet words, for now Beijing to watch Abe’s election gamble before rapprochement

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is taking steps to warm Sino-Japanese relations, coinciding with his dissolution of the lower house and call for elections on Oct. 22. Sino-Japanese relations have been strained since the autumn of 2012, primarily due to tensions over the disputed Senkaku Islands (called Diaoyu” by China).  The author marvels at Abe’s apparent shift from “hard-liner toward China” and his expressed strong desire to further improve Sino-Japanese relations through top-level contacts.  The author contends Abe has no choice by to “mend fences”, but that the same is true for China as well, with its increasing “tangled” diplomacy and increasing strains in its relations with the U.S. and many other countries.  But the Xi-Abe rapprochement is a fragile one, and it is not clear it will survive October [Nikkei Asian Review].

6 October 2017

Snap election and political party dynamics

Following Prime Minister Abe’s dissolution of the Diet and call for new elections on 22 October last Thursday, Japan is witnessing drastic changes in its political party landscape. Japan’s largest opposition party, the Democratic Party (DP), has split into two groups, with one moving to the recently founded ‘Party of Hope’ and the other joining a new party currently in preparation by DP’s deputy president [Nikkei Asian Review]. While the Party of Hope will not win the election, it is believed to be a game changer and able to seriously thwart Abe’s ambition to come out of the election stronger than before [Today Online]. The Party founder and leader, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, however, has dashed speculations and hopes that she would run for a seat in the Diet. As a possible motive for this decision observers assume that Koike as Tokyo Governor wants to wait for and take advantage of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 for her election run in the next elections [Reuters].

6 October 2017

Press freedom and politics in Japan

A change of ownership of Japan’s leading English newspaper The Japan Times and new personnel in the management with contacts to far-right wing political circles and individuals give reasons to be concerned over press freedom and investigative journalism being curtailed in Japan, reflected in the termination of contracts with liberal writers and commentators of the newspaper [East Asia Forum].

29 September 2017

Japan’s Abe calls snap election amid worries over North Korea

Japan’s Prime Minister Abe will dissolve parliament’s lower house for a snap election, as he seeks a fresh mandate to overcome “a national crisis” pertaining to spending and North Korea’s repeated missile and nuclear tests. Some analysts suggest this may result in a “nasty surprise” for the Japanese leader, considering recent so-called populist revolts in other countries.

29 September 2017

Australia, Japan and India advance to the South China Sea

Three major countries in Asia Pacific – Australia, Japan and India – are expected to beef up their naval presence in the South China Sea amid the Philippine’s softening sovereignty stance in the disputed waters collaborating with China in oil and gas exploration and accepting the increasing presence of Chinese vessels within its exclusive economic zone. While India and Japan foster ties with Vietnam, Australia is seeking closer relations to Indonesia in the joint strategy to contain Chinese influence.


22 September 2017

PM Abe considers snap election as early as October

Backed by low single-digit approval ratings for the crisis-ridden opposition Democratic Party and own approval ratings of above 50%, Prime Minister Abe has voiced his consideration to dissolve the parliament and pave way for a snap election in October.

22 September 2017

Geopolitics, democracy and India-Japan security cooperation

Arguing against the trend of an autocratic redux in Asia, the author paints a more complex picture and describes dynamics strengthening democracy in the region citing for instance Hong Kong’s and Taiwan’s reactions to a more assertive China and referring a deepening India-Japan security cooperation.

22 September 2017

Japan-China relations: Government builds firing range, ups coastguard to fend off Chinese ships

Japan continues to incrementally increase its Coast Guard logistics support and training capabilities across its Southwest Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, in response to vastly increased incursions by Chinese civilian and government vessels in waters it claims as sovereign.  A new training range and the four-fold increase in Coast Guard vessels on Miyakojima will help Japan’s maritime law enforcement efforts against fleets of Chinese vessels that currently dwarf Japan’s three Coast Guard ships tasked with protecting waters that include the contested Senkaku Islands.

22 September 2017

Japan: Missiles deployed on island after North Korea launch

As reaction to Pyongyang’s launching of missiles last Friday, Japan deployed interceptors on the northern island of Hokkaido. The deployment is considered by the government as a measure to prepare to for emergency cases.

22 September 2017

Japan-India relations:  Deepening defence ties

Japan’s Prime Minister Abe and India’s Prime Minister deepened defense relations between Asia’s second and third largest economies in a recent meeting in India, as both leaders eye balancing China as the dominant Asian power.  Abe’s visit comes days after New Delhi and Beijing agreed to end the longest and most serious military confrontation along their shared and contested border in decades, a dispute that had raised worries of a broader conflict between the Asian giants. In a lengthy joint statement, India and Japan said deepening security links is paramount.

22 September 2017

North Korea: Pyongyang’s threat pushes Japan to reassess its might and rights

Japan faces serious security issues such as a bellicose, threatening, nuclear-capable North Korea, global terrorism, and an expansionist, militarily assertive China.  It must content with legal and security restrictions that are best described as “absurdly complex”. Compounding the dilemma: the country’s missile defenses are limited, and the Constitution limits military action only to instances of self-defense.  Lingering behind the debate of how Japan should proceed with its national defense policies is the question of whether Japan should develop its own nuclear weapons capability.

22 September 2017

Japan-India relations:  Deepening defence ties

Japan’s Prime Minister Abe and India’s Prime Minister deepened defense relations between Asia’s second and third largest economies in a recent meeting in India, as both leaders eye balancing China as the dominant Asian power.  Abe’s visit comes days after New Delhi and Beijing agreed to end the longest and most serious military confrontation along their shared and contested border in decades, a dispute that had raised worries of a broader conflict between the Asian giants. In a lengthy joint statement, India and Japan said deepening security links is paramount.

15 September 2017

DPRK Crisis: Japan’s history shows oil embargoes are a dance with disaster 

Amidst the new and most severe UN sanctions yet and the immediate, hostile rhetoric coming out of North Korea in relation to them, some observes urge to consult history and point out that even more severe sanctions could have a destabilising effect. Imperial Japan’s attack on Hawaii’s Pearl Harbour in 1941 was triggered at least in part by a preceeding oil embargo.


15 September 2017

Japan: PM Abe seeks to upgrade security talks with India amid China muscle-flexing

Japanese PM Abe is looking to upgrade the so-called two-plus-two framework between his country and India during his trip there this week to ministerial-level talk. Thus far, India has been reluctant to upgrade the talks but with China growing increasingly assertive, Japan feels it could have some momentum.


7 September 2017

A bumpy start for new president of Japan’s Democratic Party

Only a few days after his election as president of Japan’s Democratic Party [The Japan Times], Seiji Maehara succumbed to pressure of parliamentarians to withdraw his selection for the post of the party’s secretary general [Asahi Shimbun], an embarrassing act highlighting the party´s state of crisis.

7 September 2017

A Need to Change towards Welcoming Immigrants

To make immigration a blessing for the country, Japan needs a new immigration policy which leaves behind the traditional focus on guest workers with temporary stay in Japan and turns to programs promoting permanent residence and proactive assistance towards naturalization in order to provide incentives for skilled workers to come to Japan, Noah Smith writes.

7 September 2017

Japan’s reach out to India and Germany for support against North Korea

In the frame of Indian Defense Minister Arun Jaitley’s visit to Japan on Tuesday, he and Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera agreed to work for an increase of pressure on North Korea by the international community. They also discussed cooperation issues pertaining to maritime security and freedom of navigation in the light of China’s maritime activities in the Indian Sea (The Japan Times). In a related development, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on a teleconference agreed with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the need for a new UN resolution containing tougher sanctions against North Korea in the wake of Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test on Sunday (Reuters).


31 August 2017

Is the Japanese PM seeking to encourage Indian aggressiveness for own ends?

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India, scheduled for mid of September, has a hidden agenda. According to this article, Abe will attempt to make use of India’s current tensions with China over Doklam and to strengthen Japan’s position vis-à-vis China by fostering its relations with the USA and India.

31 August 2017

New Silk Road: Japan To counteract China In Kazakhstan with new Asia-Europe rail deal

In a move to compete with China for influence in the Eurasian region, Japanese Nippon Express, a global logistics company, concluded a MoU with Kazakh Railways pertaining to container traffic passing over land from Japan/South Korea over Central Asia and The Caucasus to Europe.

31 August 2017

Japan’s maritime diplomacy mission in Southeast Asia

Challenging China’s assertive maritime policy in Asia, Japan has managed to emerge as the region’s leader in maritime security cooperation due to country’s successful defence cooperation with the USA and important ASEAN countries and the constant expansion of its naval capabilities reflected by the recent approval of the 42 billion defense budget, the highest ever in Japan.

31 August 2017

Vietnam is the cornerstone of India’s “Counter China” policy

Amid news on a weapons deal between India and Vietnam there is a significant rapprochement between both countries that both display a rapprochement with Japan. This places Vietnam at the center of an ‘Anti China Axis’ from India to Japan meanwhile India and Vietnam increasingly fostering ties with the US. The article focuses on the new Indian eastward movement with Vietnam as its linchpin.

18 August 2017

The old and the new in Abe’s revamped administration

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe played safe in his cabinet reshuffle in the wake of political scandals and falling approval rates. Whether he will re-gain public support with his new administration remains questionable.

11 August 2017

Japan: Constitutional reform postponed – LDP to delay its revision of top law

In the face of sagging poll numbers, Prime Minister Abe’s has delayed his timelines for his ambitious plans to revise Japan’s Constitution. The revisions, which include providing a constitutional basis to the Self-Defense Forces, may now have wait beyond 2020 for implementation. The Japanese public does not seem concerned, though, with 80 percent of those polled saying the economy and employment should be first priority and only 29 percent rating constitutional revision highest priority.

4 August 2017

Japan in troubled waters

While it may be premature to proclaim Japan to be in dire straits, its political crisis is certainly worsening. Abe, who’s term comes to an official end in late 2018, is falling in popularity polls, his party is struggling with a historic loss at the recent elections in Tokyo, and one of his protégés, the former defense minister, had to step down amid a political scandal. Read more on it here and be sure to watch this space in the coming weeks and months!

21 July 2017

Testing Japan´s Composure: China, Russia, North Korea

Increasing threats caused by North Korea, Russia, and China are creating tensions Japan has not felt since the end of World War II. The threats are designed to throw Japan off balance, and to challenge the strength of the Japan-U.S. alliance.

16 July 2017

Japan to be party to U.N. intl crime treaty

Japan has finally agreed to become party to the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, after first signing the treaty in 2000. The move should enhance Japan’s law enforcement effectiveness, and its standing with the other countries party to the treaty.

16 July 2017

Big in Japan: How the EU pulled off its largest trade deal

Phil Hogan, European Commissioner, managed to seal the agreement with Japan on opening up Japan’s agricultural markets in exchange for Europe dropping tariffs on Japanese cars, with the deciding factor being soft cheese.

16 July 2017

TPP talks to focus on bridging divides

Talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement have begun in Hakone (Japan), in the absence of the United States, who withdrew. Plenary and individual meetings are expected to focus on the steps needed to bring the TPP into force without the US, by aligning the participating countries’ positions.

7 July 2017

Shock and discontent within LDP over historical loss in Tokyo assembly election

Prime Minster Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party suffered a serious political defeat in Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly elections July 2. This loss could jeopardise Abe’s political, security, and economic agenda. Abe is calling for “soul searching” and for his party to recover public trust.

22 June 2017

Japan Accused of Stifling Freedom with New Terror Law

Japan’s parliament has passed a controversial “anti-conspiracy” bill which critics say could be used to curb civil liberties across the country