Asia in Review Archive (2019-2020)


Date of AiR edition

News summary

29 December 2020

Japan to ban entry from all countries to block new strain’s spread

(dql) In the wake of surging numbers of new coronavirus infections Japan announced that it will suspend entries into the country of nonresident foreign nationals from around the world from Monday till late January. The Japanese government call the decision a precautionary step against the new, potentially more transmissible coronavirus variant, after the first domestically transmitted case involving the variant was confirmed on last Saturday.

The country reported 3,881 coronavirus cases the same day, a new record daily tally for the fourth straight day, and 47 deaths as Tokyo and several other prefectures reported the highest numbers of infections at the start of the year-end and New Year holidays.


29 December 2020

Japan: Government reveals details of decarbonization and electrification policy

(dql) Japan’s government last week revealed policy details to boost electric vehicles and offshore wind power generation as part of its efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

The action plan identifies 14 key areas in which significant growth and investment are needed to achieve decarbonization, including the use of hydrogen as a power source and carbon recycling.

The government also pledged to extend support for the private sector to help achieve the goal of reducing net carbon dioxide emissions to zero, while estimating the growth strategy would generate economic effects amounting to around 90 trillion yen in 2030 and 190 trillion yen (1.8 trillion USD) in 2050. [Kyodo News] [Japan Times]

29 December 2020

India, Japan review security situation in Indo-Pacific region

(lm) Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and his Japanese counterpart Kishi Nobuo on December 23 reviewed the prevailing security situation and the need for a free and open maritime order in the Indo-Pacific region. [Hindustan Times]

During their phone conversation, the two ministers reviewed the progress on various bilateral defense cooperation initiatives and expressed commitment to further elevate engagements between their armed forces under the “India-Japan Special Strategic and Global Partnership” military agreement [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3].

Both sides also welcomed the successful conduct of the bilateral maritime exercise “Jimex 2020” [AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1], as well as of the “Malabar 2020” naval exercises, which had marked the first for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a loose strategic coalition of Japan, India, Australia and the United States [see AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2]. Further, the ministers also welcomed the recent successful visit of the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) chief to India, who had visited New Delhi earlier this month.



29 December 2020

US Presidents signs Taiwan Assurance Act to strengthen support for Taiwan 

(nm) As part of a 2.3 trillion USD government spending package, US President Donald Trump signed the Taiwan Assurance Act of 2020 into law which bolsters support for Taiwan’s defence capacity and its participation in international organizations. 

The Act calls Taiwan a vital part of the US Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy, and expresses support for Taiwan’s asymmetric warfare strategy and calls for regular arms sales to Taiwan: “The U.S. should conduct regular sales and transfers of defense articles to Taiwan in order to enhance its self-defense capabilities, particularly its efforts to develop and integrate asymmetric capabilities, including undersea warfare and air defense capabilities, into its military forces.”

Furthermore, the act highlights the US’ support for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in several international organizations, including in the United Nations and the World Health Assembly, as well as other international groups that do not require statehood for participation, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 

It also allocates 3 million USD to support the activities of the US-Taiwan Global Cooperation and Training Framework (GCTF), an initiative which seeks to develop human resources and exchange knowledge between the Taiwan and the US, and which recently announced its 2021 priority areas of cooperation. Japan joined the platform in 2019. [Focus Taiwan 1] [Focus Taiwan 2] [AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]

In a similar development, more than 30 members of the US Congress, including 26 senators, last week introduced resolutions calling on US president-elect Joe Biden to enter into a free-trade agreement (FTA) with Taiwan. [Taipei Times

Further support came from Japan as a top Japanese defence official last week urged Joe Biden to “be strong” in supporting Taiwan in light of an aggressive China, calling Taiwan’s safety a “red line.” Although Tokyo largely maintains a “one China” policy, its engagement with Taiwan has grown in recent years, mostly on a non-governmental basis. Japan also shares strategic interests with Taiwan, as Japan’s energy supplies and trade flow through lanes which Taiwan sits in. [Reuters]

29 December 2020

Japan-South Korea relations: Court order allowing seizure of assets to pay victims of Japanese wartime forced labor takes effect

(dql) Already strained relations between Japan and South Korea over the issue of forced labor are expected to worsen after an order of a South Korean court took effect on Tuesday, mandating that the local assets of a Japanese firm be sold off to compensate victims of forced labor, in fulfillment of a ruling by the South Korean Supreme Court in November 2018 ordering the company to provide between 100 million won ($91,560) and 150 million won to five plaintiffs who were forced to work in its factories during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. [Korea Herald]

Japan, however, has been consistently questioning the ruling, claiming that all reparation issues, stemming from its colonial rule, were settled by a 1965 treaty that normalized relations between the two countries. It has repeatedly criticized the South Korean government for failing to take necessary action to resolve the dispute. 

Interestingly, the court’s order took effect a day after the fifth anniversary of the agreement to resolve the issue of Korean women forced into Japanese wartime military brothels, an agreement hailed as landmark deal at the time when is was concluded in 2015 between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Park Geun Hye. [Mainichi]

22 December 2020

Taiwan, US, and Japan agree on 2021 priority cooperation areas 

(nm) Last week, Taiwanese, Japanese, and US officials announced their countries’ priority areas of cooperation for the upcoming year as part of the 6th Global Cooperation and Training Framework (GCTF). According to a joint statement, the platform “[plans] to host GCTF workshops in the areas of public health, law enforcement, disaster prevention and mitigation, renewable energy, and workforce and artificial intelligence.”

The initiative was launched by Taiwan and the US in 2015 for the development of human resources and exchange of knowledge and hosts workshops on areas of common interest for the region. Japan joined as full partner in 2019. [Focus Taiwan] [Taiwan News]

22 December 2020

Japan: Cabinet approves record defense budget

(dql) Japan’s Cabinet has approved a record 52 billion USD defense budget for the next fiscal year starting in April 2021. More than 70 million USD are allocated to the development of a new stealth fighter jet, the country’s first in three decades. The program is expected to cost a total of around 40 billion USD and is expected to be ready in the 2030s. Tokyo will, furthermore, spend 323 million USD to begin development of a long-range anti-ship missile to defend its southwestern Okinawan island chain, as well as 912 million USD to build two compact warships able to operate with fewer sailors than conventional destroyers. [Deutsche Welle]


22 December 2020

Chinese and Russian warplanes enter South Korea’s air defence identification zone, fly over Sea of Japan

(dql) South Korea scrambled fighter jets in response to an intrusion into its air defence identification zone by 15 Russian and four Chinese warplanes, in what appears to be a joint military drill between Beijing and Moscow. [Yonhap]

Meanwhile, six Russian and Chinese strategic bombers on Tuesday flew over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. The Japanese Air Self-Defense Force scrambled fighters against the bombers. [Kyodo News]

15 December 2020

China-Japan relations: Defense Ministers agree on communication hotline amid continued differences over disputed East China Sea islands

(dql) China’s Wei Fanghe and his Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi agreed during a virtual meeting to strengthen efforts to quickly establish a hotline between their officials to prevent accidental clashes at sea and in the air. Both countries had launched a communication mechanism between their defense authorities in 2018. However, opening a hotline – a pillar of that mechanism – but they have made little progress.

At the same time, both sides insisted on their respective claims over disputed islands in the East China Sea. While Kishi called Beijing’s claims over those islands “completely unacceptable,” Wei reaffirmed China’s “unwavering” commitment to defending its territorial sovereignty and maritime interests. [Nikkei Asian Review]

15 December 2020

Japanese government called on to set maximum detention duration for foreigners 

(dql) Amnesty International Japan called on the Japanese Justice Ministry and the Immigration Services Agency of Japan to set maximum confinement periods and keep those terms at an absolute minimum as well as to comply with the principle of non-refoulement which prohibits the deportation of individuals in danger of persecution.

The call comes at the time when the government is planning a revision of the immigration law in response to criticism of its long-term detention of foreign nationals sparked by the death in summer last year of a Nigerian man who went on hunger strike over his prolonged detention at an immigration center. [Mainichi]

8 December 2020

Myanmar: Japanese influence on peace talks in Rakhine state

(nd) As reported now, a special Japanese envoy held meetings with local politicians in November in Rakhine state where balloting during the elections was canceled almost entirely due to clashes between the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) and the Arakan Army (AA). Just after the election, the AA called for substitute elections to be held. There was no fighting since and talks happening between the conflicting parties, agreeing on a temporary ceasefire.

With China deeply involved in investment projects in the country under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Japan seems to be its only rival for influence in Myanmar, with Japan’s investment and involvement in the reconciliation process expected to continue and being viewed positively by the population. [Irrawaddy]


8 December 2020

Japan-Indonesia relations: Japanese bank to invest in Indonesian sovereign wealth fund

(dql) The Indonesian government announced last week that the Japan Bank for International Cooperation has pledged to invest four billion USD in the country’s soon-to-be launched sovereign wealth fund, with which Jakarta hopes to solicit 15 billion USD to finance infrastructure projects and the relocation of the country’s capital from Jakarta to Borneo Island. [Jakarta Globe


8 December 2020

Japan-UK relations: London to dispatch carrier strike group to waters near Japan

(dql) Japanese government sources revealed that the British navy will dispatch an aircraft carrier strike group, including the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, to waters near Japan as soon as early next year. The group is expected to conduct joint exercises with the US military and Japan’s Self-Defense Forces during its stay. [Nikkei Asian Review]

The announcement comes amid tensions between Japan and China over disputed islands in the East China Sea which flared up again when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Japan in November. [AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1]


8 December 2020

Taiwan-Japan: Annual economic meeting to be held in Q1 2021 

(nm) Taiwan and Japan are set to hold their annual bilateral economic and trade meeting in the first quarter of 2021, an official of the Taiwan-Japan Relations Association (TJRA) – an organization representing Taiwanese interests in Japan – stated last week. Since the 2020 meeting – which regularly would have been held in October or November – was delayed by the global pandemic, the meeting will still be considered the 2020 edition as Japan’s fiscal year ends in March. 

Japan is Taiwan’s third-largest trading partner after China and the United States, while Taiwan was Japan’s fourth-largest trading partner in 2019. [ITA]

Meanwhile, the Japanese side has voiced “deep concerns” on a nearly decade-long Taiwanese ban on Japanese food imports from areas affected by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The ban stems from concerns over the threat posed to food safety by possible nuclear radiation contamination. It was introduced by the then-ruling Kuomintang (KMT) government, while the currently ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has considered lifting the ban since it took office in May 2016. 

On Sunday, Taiwan’s representative to Japan said Taiwan should prohibit imports of Japanese food products with radiation but allow imports of food free of radiation. Analysts and Taiwanese government officials suggest that the ban could hinder Taiwan’s efforts to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a Japan-led Pacific trade pact. Due to Taiwan’s exclusion from the Regional Comprehensive Partnership – the biggest regional trade deal ever which was established by China and 14 other countries in November – the participation in the CPTPP is of increasing importance to Taiwan, Hsieh added. [Focus Taiwan 1] [Focus Taiwan 2]

8 December 2020

Japan: Law on intro-fertilization births passed

(dql) Last week, Japan’s parliament passed a bill to amend the country’s civil law to recognize as legal parents married couples who have children through donated eggs and sperm. The new law clarifies that a woman who gives birth using a donated egg is the child’s mother, and not the donor, and that a husband who consents to his wife giving birth with donated sperm will be unable to deny his fatherhood. Furthermore, it grants children the right to seek disclosure of the identities of the egg or sperm donors. [Japan Times]

1 December 2020

Chinese Foreign Minister’s visits to Japan and South Korea

(dql) Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited South Korea and Japan.

During his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihidde Suga, both sides agreed of deepening economic ties, but remained split of disputed islands in the East China Sea. Wang reassured that China seeks to strengthen cooperation with Japan in the fight against the pandemic and in both countries’ economic recovery. Suga confirmed that a “stable relationship between the two countries is important not only for Japan and China but also for the region and the international community,” adding that he “would like to fulfill our responsibilities together.” He, however, reminded Wang of Japan’s claim over Japanese-controlled East China Sea islands, which are claimed by also China, and expressed his concern about Beijing’s growing activity in the area. Wang, speaking with his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi a day earlier, said that China was firm its right to defend its sovereignty. [AP 1] [Japan Times]

Speaking with his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha and President Moon Jae-in, Wang called for stronger cooperation in combatting the coronavirus pandemic, in trade and in finding a peaceful solution to a nuclear standoff with North Korea.

Wang’s visit to Seoul comes at a time when concerns in South Korea are rising that the country risks to becoming squeezed between China, its biggest trading partner, and military ally the United States, as well as when Moon’s ambitions for inter-Korean engagement have faltered amid stalled nuclear negotiations between the US and North Korea. [AP 2]

1 December 2020

Japan: PM under pressure over allegations of illegal funding of dinner parties against Abe 

(dql) Opposition lawmakers last week questioned Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga whether he made inaccurate claims in parliament last year about a potential breach of laws on gift-giving by his predecessor Shinzo Abe. 

The questioning came after news media reported that Tokyo prosecutors are now investigating allegations of illegal spending of Abe’s office for dinner parties for supporters in a possible violation of the country’s funding and election laws. Abe has thus far vehemently denied that his office made such payments. 

Suga has been linked to the case in his former capacity as Chief Cabinet Secretary, widely seen as Abe’s right-hand man during his entire 2012-2020 term. During the questioning, Suga insisted that he always consulted with Abe first before responding to questions on the matter, while refusing to respond to questions about his past statements supporting Abe, citing the ongoing investigation. [Japan Today] [Japan Times]

24 November 2020

Japan: Supreme Court finds gap in weight of votes in Upper House election vote constitutional

(dql) In a ruling last week, Japan’s Supreme Court ruled that a vote-value disparity in the House of Councillors election in July 2019, in which the weight of individual votes in less populated constituencies was up to three times higher than those in more densely populated electoral districts, was constitutional and rejected demands of plaintiffs to nullify the election results.

The ruling followed conflicting decisions of high courts in lawsuits filed by lawyers claiming that the vote-value disparity constituted a violation of the constitutional requirement for a proportional ratio between a seat and the number of voters needed to win such a seat. [Mainichi]

24 November 2020

Japan: Political parties divided over national referendum reform bill

(dql) Japan’s path to a new national referendum law becomes thorny, after a debate in the Diet last week proofed that ruling and opposition parties remain split over a related bill which had been already proposed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in June 2018. It aims to make it easier for voters to cast their ballots in constitutional referendums by, among other things, setting up polling stations in commercial facilities.

While the LDP pushes for a quick vote on the bill, the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party insists on debates on restrictions on television commercials for national referendums on constitutional amendments prior to a decision on the bill. [Nippon]


24 November 2020

Asian countries divided over UN death penalty moratorium

(dql) In a poll on a resolution which calls for a moratorium on the use of capital punishment eleven countries from the Asia-Pacific region were among the 39 countries which voted against the resolution in the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. They include Afghanistan, Brunei Darussalam, China, India, Japan, the Maldives, North Korea, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, and Tonga.

120 countries voted for the resolution, including over 15 Asia-Pacific countries. Among them are Sri Lanka and the Philippines. 24 countries abstained from the vote. Asia-Pacific countries among these are Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. [Human Rights Watch]

24 November 2020

Maldives to receive Japanese grant to strengthen maritime security

(lm) The Maldives and Japan on November 22 signed an agreement for a Japanese grant of $7.6 million to be extended to the Maldives Coast Guard and the Maritime Rescue and Coordination Center. Intended to enhance the Coast Guard’s operational capabilities in carrying out humanitarian operations, observers say the agreement brings the archipelago even more firmly into the ‘Indo-Pacific’ side of the emerging geopolitical maritime fault line pitting the US and its allies against China. [The Hindu] [The Edition] [Avas]

Coming less than three months after the signing of a bilateral US-Maldives framework agreement [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3], the grant aid is Male’s second major pact with a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a loose strategic coalition of Japan, India, Australia and the United States.

24 November 2020

Japan: New generation frigate launched

(dql) Japan’s Navy last week launched its first new generation of stealth multi-mission frigates. The new type is a 435-foot-long warship, displacing 5.500 tons when fully loaded. It will incorporate missile launchers, surface and underwater unmanned systems and electronic counter-measures and is expected to be commissioned into the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force in 2022 after qualification trials. [Defense World]

24 November 2020

China-Japan relations: Foreign Ministers agree on pandemic cooperation amid hardening stances on disputed East China Sea islands

(dql) In a meeting on Tuesday in Tokyo, Chinese Foreign Ministers Wang Yi and his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi agreed to cooperate in combating the coronavirus and reviving their pandemic-hit economies. They also agreed to try to avoid actions that provoke tensions over disputed islands in the East China Sea and to set up a hotline between their militaries by the end of December. In spite of this, both sides insists on their respective claims over the disputed territories, with Motegi reiterating Japan’s demand that China “takes a forward-looking action,” while Wang reassured China’s position saying that “we will continue to safeguard our sovereignty.” [AP]

Wang is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday. His visit comes at a time when concerns about Beijing’ influence in the Asia are rising in Japan while potentials to deepen economic ties increase after both countries joined the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. 

17 November 2020

East Asia Summit: Deepening cooperation in pandemic response

(dql) Leaders of participating countries at the East Asia Summit on past Saturday stressed the need for countries across the Asia-Pacific to cooperate in tackling the coronavirus pandemic and the current economic crisis.

The Summit brought together Asean’s 10 members plus Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States. [Straits Times]

17 November 2020

Japan-South Korea relations: Agreement of compensating forced labor victims reached?

(dql) Japan and South Korea have reportedly reached an agreement on compensating South Korea victims of forced labor during Japan’s rule on the Korean peninsula. South Korea’s ruling Democrat Party, however, denied knowledge of the agreement, adding that such a deal would be difficult for both Korean and Japanese political leaders in light of strong anti-Korean and anti-Japanese sentiment in the respective countries. [Korea Herald]

Since the 2018, Japan and South Korea have been locked in a bitter dispute over the forced labor issue as Japan refuses to accept a ruling of the South Korean the Supreme Court in favor of forced labor victims and uncompromisingly maintains its position that the forced labor issue was already settled in the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between both countries under which Japan provided financial aid to South Korea. Seoul, on the other side, upholds its position not to interfere in the country’s judiciary.  

17 November 2020

Japan-Australia relations: Defense pact signed

(dql) As part of a defense agreement signed on Tuesday shortly before the Australian Prime Minister met his Japanese counterpart on Tuesday night, Australia and Japan will conduct more joint military exercises in key geo-strategic waterways, including in the South and East China seas, where China’s military assertiveness has been a growing concern for Canberra and Tokyo.

The pact also allows the stationing of troops in each other’s countries, making it Japan’s first agreement covering a foreign military presence on Japanese territory since the 1960 Status of Forces Agreement with the US. [Sydney Morning Herald]

It comes after Australia last month returned to the Malabar naval exercises involving Japan, India and the United States. [AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2]

17 November 2020

Japan to review cyberbullying laws

(dql) Japan is set to revise its law pertaining to cyberbullying after a government panel proposed to make it easier for cyberbullying victims to obtain information about online harassers, including name and phone number, by establishing a one-court proceeding instead of going through multiple court proceedings as required under the current law.  

The proposal comes after a TV star’s suicide in May, widely believed to have been committed due to the pressure of a flood of hateful messages on social media. [Mainichi]

17 November 2020

Japan: Users of donated eggs, sperm to be recognized as parents

(dql) In an attempt to clarify decade-old legal uncertainties, ruling and opposition parties have submitted a bill which calls for the recognition of those as legal parents who give birth to a baby through in-vitro-fertilization. The draft stipulates that a woman who gives birth is the mother of the child when she used a donated egg, while a husband cannot deny he is the father if he had consented to his wife receiving sperm donated from a third person.

The bill, however, falls short of recognizing the rights of such children to seek disclosure of the identities of egg or sperm donors, sparking criticism from groups representing them and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. [Japan Today]

17 November 2020

Myanmar, Japanese firm stops all dividend payment to firm connected to Myanmar’s military

(lf) The Japanese beverages company Kirin has stopped all dividend payment to Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd (MEHL), a business conglomerate linked to the military. This follows an Amnesty International (AI) report, claiming MEHL directly funds parts of the military accused of genocidal actions. MEHL is one of Myanmar’s most powerful businesses, involved in a large variety of ventures. According to the AI report, one-third of the shares belong to active combat groups, while the other two-thirds belong to retired and serving military personnel. [The Diplomat]

10 November 2020

Japan-South Korea relations: Legal process to liquidate Mitsubishi’s assets to compensate wartime forced laborers continues

(dql) On Tuesday, a public notice by a court took effect to proceed with a stalled legal process to liquidate assets of Japanese Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd and compensate South Korean victims of wartime forced labor.

In November 2018, South Korea’s Supreme court upheld an appellate court’s verdict to order Mitsubishi to pay compensation to five plaintiffs. The Japanese company failed to respond to a ruling, in response to which the victims requested a district court in March 2019 to seize the company’s assets in Korea, including two trademark rights and six patents, in a bid to push ahead with the compensation. [Korea Herald]

Since the 2018 ruling, Japan and South Korea have been locked in a stalemate over the forced labor issue. Japan consistently refuses to accept the Supreme Court’s ruling and uncompromisingly maintains its position that the forced labor issue was already settled in the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between both countries under which Japan provided financial aid to South Korea. Seoul, on the other side, upholds its position not to interfere in the country’s judiciary.  

10 November 2020

Japan-US relations: Negotiations on cost-sharing for hosting US troops in Japan to being this week

(dql) With the current five-year cost-sharing deal ending next March, Japan and the US are set to start talks over cost-sharing for the stationing of 55,000 American troops in Japan later this week.  

So far, Japan has paid nearly 1.9 billion USD per year in so-called host-nation support to cover utility and labor costs for US bases, along with outlays for relocating training exercises away from populated areas.

In November, US President Donald Trump demanded a four-fold increase of Japan’s annual share. [Kyodo News] [Foreign Policy]

10 November 2020

Japan: Rise in sexual violence consultations during pandemic

(dql) Indicating the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on sexual violence, support centers have been contacted by victims of sexual assaults on over 23.000 occasions between April and September, according to data released by Japan’s cabinet. It marks an increase of almost 16% compared with the same period in 2019. [Kyodo News]

Earlier last month, data of Japan’s National Police showed a surge in suicides amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 1.800 people taking their lives in August, a rise of almost 15% compared with the same month last year. [AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4]

CPG will organize on 12 November an AiR webinar on the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on the society in Thailand, addressing – among other issues – rising numbers of suicides and domestic violence linked to psychological and economic pressure under the pandemic lockdown. [CPG]

3 November 2020

Japan-Russia relations: Moscow deploys defense missile systems to disputed islands

(dql) In a highly provocative move amid hardened stances over disputed islands in the East China Sea, Russia in a historic first has deployed S-300V4 air defense missile systems to the disputed Kuril Islands to conduct military exercises.

In service in the Russian army since 2014, the S-300V4 is the latest generation of air defense missile system in the family of S-300V. Compared to the previous version, the S-300V4 features expanded anti-aircraft, anti-cruise and anti-ballistic missile capabilities, with higher efficiency in its anti-missile defense capabilities. It is able to destroy medium-range ballistic missiles within a range of 350 kilometers. [Army Recognition] [EurAsian Times]

In a latest development, it is reported that Russia is considering to deploy its T-72B3 main battle tanks to the disputed Kuril Islands, too. [Defence Blog]

For some important dates in the history of the Russian-Japanese dispute over the Kuril Islands see Peter Suciu in [The National Interest].

3 November 2020

Japan: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries announced contractor for next-generation fighter jets

(dql) Japan’s Defense Ministry announced Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as the prime contractor to build its next-generation fighter jet, after signing a contract with the company. Mitsubishi is expected to provide the country with indigenous fighter aircraft capabilities, in cooperation with a foreign partner to be selected by the end of the year. One focal point of this collaboration will be stealth technology. [Defense News 1

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was recently ranked 21st among the top 100 defense companies in 2020. At the top spot is US Lockheed Martin, followed by four other US companies including Boeing, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon Company. Aviation Industry Corporation of China is the highest ranked Chinese defense company at the 6th rank. [Defense News 2]

Meanwhile, Japan’s government is reportedly mulling over the procurement of purchase two new “super-destroyers”, with a focus on missile defense primarily aimed at defending against North Korean ballistic missiles. They serve as an alternative to the pair of US-built land-based Aegis Ashore systems, scrapped in summer due to technical issues, rising costs, and domestic criticism. [The Drive]

3 November 2020

Japan refuses to join Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons 

(dql) Japan’s government announced last week that Japan will not join the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), citing an “increasingly difficult security environment” surrounding the country which forces it to walk a thin line between making “steady and realistic progress toward nuclear disarmament” and “maintaining and strengthening […] deterrence capabilities to deal with threats.” [Kyodo]

The announcement came shortly after Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the TPNW, clearing the way for its entry into force 90 days later, and after survivors of the August 1945 US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and anti-nuclear activists called on the government to sign up to the treaty.

The TPNW, adopted in July 2017 and opened for signature in September 2017, is the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons, aimed to lead towards their total elimination. No nuclear powers nor any major Western country have joined the treaty. [The Conversation]

3 November 2020

China-Japan relations: Tokyo plans to block Beijing from supplying drones to Japanese government

(dq) Japan announced that it is considering shutting off China from supplying drones to its government, citing efforts to strengthen the protection of sensitive information as reason, including information technology, supply chains, cyber security and intellectual property. 

Japan’s defense ministry currently possesses several hundred drones, including some made by Chinese companies, while the coast guard has about 30 drones, with most of them being Chinese. Both said they were not using Chinese drones for security-related issues. [Reuters]

3 November 2020

Japan: Juvenile Law reform proposal seeks harsher punishments for young criminal offenders

(dql) Japan’s Justice Ministry laws week proposed changes to Japan’s Juvenile Law for a harsher treatment of 18- and 19-year-old criminal offenders. 

While the suggested revisions leave current system of referring all cases of this group of offenders to family courts and of investigations by psychologists and other experts at juvenile correctional facilities to find ways of rehabilitating offenders basically untouched, they expand the range of crimes to be referred to prosecutors. Currently these cases are restricted to those involving the death of a victim as result of premeditated criminal activity. Furthermore, crimes punishable with a minimum of one year in prison, would also be added to the list of cases to be referred to the prosecution. The changes will also relax rules for media to reveal full names and publish facial images of this group of criminal offenders. [Mainichi]

27 October 2020

Thailand, China forging closer ties; challenges to RCEP

(nd) During his visit to Thailand, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi announced further investment in Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) flagship project. The EEC aims at transforming the three major provinces east of Bangkok into a high-tech, trade, logistic and innovation hub by concentrating knowledge and providing central infrastructure, such as an airport, a high-speed rail connecting Bangkok to China and Laos [See also AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1], and deep-sea ports. Recently, the two countries developed plans to link this project to China’s Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area (GBA) in Southern China, forming closer economic ties. This plan is part of the Chinese Belt and Road initiative (BRI).

During the visit, the creation of fast-track lanes to facilitate the exchange of people and goods was agreed upon. Additionally, Thailand will increase cooperation with Chinese firms on 5G technology, including Huawei, which US intelligence agencies warned of due to national security risks. More Western and European nations followed the US position, which could have repercussions for Thailand if Western firms consider investments.

Also this week, Ministry of Commerce announced that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact will be signed at the next ASEAN summit in Vietnam. The 2012 initiated project aims to create an Asian Pacific free trade area with a bigger GDP than the EU and the US, constituting almost 30% of the world’s trade in a highly dynamic region, involving the 10 ASEAN states, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Half of ASEAN and three other countries have to sign the pact in order for it to come into force.

Following growing tensions between the US and China as well as China and India and the tensions in the South China Sea, the RCEP faces challenges. Earlier this year, India withdrew its support, seeking  a free trade deal with Taiwan, which is seeking the same with Thailand. With Japan possibly reconsidering its role in the RCEP, it is a difficult situation for Thailand, given that the US, Taiwan and Japan remain the biggest investors in Thailand. [Thai Examiner 1] [Thai Examiner 2]

27 October 2020

Analysis: Quad members are working toward establishing a new multilateral security structure for the region

(lm/ng) Amidst the months-long border standoff with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in eastern Ladakh, India on October 19 announced that the Australia would be invited to join the upcoming trilateral Malabar exercises. Scheduled to be held in November in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, the exercise will be the first for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a loose strategic coalition of Japan, India, Australia and the United States, since the grouping’s reconvening in November 2017 [see AiR November/2017, 4AiR November/2017, 3]. [The Diplomat] [Asia Times]

In August, New Delhi for had the first time made public its intentions to invite the Australian Navy to join the annual instalment of the Malabar exercise, a decision that was complicated by ongoing tensions between India and China [see AiR No. 29, July/2020, 3]. The decision to include Australia in the drills follows repeated requests from Canberra and lobbying by Washington and Tokyo and is a clear indication that the region’s four leading democracies are now actively working toward establishing a new multilateral security structure for the region [see AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1].

Significantly, this year’s installment of the Malabar exercise will take place on the heels of the third round of the India-US 2+2 dialogue, scheduled for October 26-27. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper will meet with their Indian counterparts this week to strengthen strategic ties with New Delhi, as part of Washington’s latest efforts to bolster allies against China’s growing assertiveness in the region. After India, Pompeo will travel to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, two Indian Ocean countries struggling with a mountain of Chinese debt incurred to finance big infrastructure projects. He will conclude his trip in Indonesia, which is also locked in territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea [see AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3]. [The Straits Times 1]

Ahead of the formal two-plus-two talks, India on October 26 announced it would sign on to the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), the last of the four foundational agreements that Washington maintains with its other close defense partners. Under the satellite-intelligence pact, both countries will be committed to providing reciprocal access to each other’s military facilities, securing military communications, and sharing geospatial data from airborne and satellite sensors. With India and Japan signing a military logistics agreement in September [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3], New Delhi already has such agreements with the other Quad members. [South Asia Monitor] [The Straits Times 2]

As Indian troops remain battle-ready, facing Chinese forces at the border in eastern Ladakh, New Delhi has further increased defense procurements from the US, enabling interoperability [see e.g. AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3]. From essentially zero dollars in defense cooperation prior to 2008, India-United States bilateral defense trade has grown to more than $21 billion over the past years. [The Wall Street Journal]

Speculation about Washington’s interest to explore a new framework for Indo-Pacific cooperation, dubbed the “Quad Plus”, received a boost in September, when US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said that the US was aiming to ‘formalize’ the groupings’ military, economic and development cooperation. Though cautioning visions of an Indo-Pacific NATO, at that time, Biegun emphasized that the format shall remain open for other countries to join but ‘align in a more structured manner’ [see AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1,]. [Project Syndicate]

Biegun, who was in New Delhi earlier this month to lay the groundwork for the India-US 2+2 dialogue, said the United States and India have been ‘too cautious’ about Beijing’s reaction to the grouping with Japan and Australia. Speaking at a think-tank event during his visit to Delhi, Biegun said Washington would respect India’s tradition of ‘Strategic Autonomy’, and did not seek to pull it into a security alliance, but hoped to build a partnership in the region through the Quad, which he dubbed ‘Pax Indo-Pacifica’. [The Hindu] [Bloomberg]

Noteworthy, the US Deputy Secretary of State also touched on the November 3 US presidential election, saying that any possible outcome was unlikely to affect deepening US-ties with New Delhi because ‘this relationship is much bigger than any one political party.’ According to observers, US-Indian relations would continue to see an upward trajectory, albeit with nuanced changes in case Democrats take the White House. While the administration of US President Donald Trump has often sidestepped questions on human rights issues [see e.g. AiR No. 8, February/2020, 4] Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in the past has expressed disappointment with the Indian government over its new citizenship law. Further, his running mate Kamala Harris, whose mother’s side of the family is from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, has voiced strong opinions about India’s crackdown in Kashmir [Foreign Policy] [Deutsche Welle] [India West]

27 October 2020

Japan’s Suga pledges security assistance for ASEAN’s coasts

(jn) Japan’s Prime Minister Suga announced in Jakarta on Wednesday that his country will provide patrol boats to Southeast Asian governments, like Indonesia and Vietnam, presenting an effort to help these countries secure their waters around the disputed South China Sea. Mr. Suga stressed the importance of adhering to the rule of law and peaceful conflict settlement in international waterways and lamented recent breaches of maritime law in the region. He explicitly pointed out combating illegal fishing as a reason to supply ASEAN countries with patrol boats. [Radio Free Asia]

The rhetoric and the agreement’s content match the overall strategic play of Mr. Suga during his South East Asian round trip, namely boosting Japan’s economic and security ties to ASEAN members that themselves are facing Chinese encroachment in what they see either as territorial or international waters. [Asia Times]

27 October 2020

Japan-UK trade deal signed

(dql) After a broad agreement in September, the United Kingdom and Japan last week formally signed a trade agreement. Under the agreement, nearly all British exports to Japan will be tariff free while British tariffs on Japanese cars will be gradually reduced to zero by 2026. The deal is expected to boost trade between the UK and Japan by about £15bn. [BBC]

For the strategic significance of the agreement for both countries see [Deutsche Welle].

27 October 2020

Japan-South Korea relations: Tokyo not to support Seoul’s bid for World Trade Organization chief post

(dql) Japan’s government announced its plans not to back South Korea’s candidate, but the Nigerian one for the post of director-general of the World Trade Organization, citing the higher quality of the African candidate. The election will take place early November. 

The announcement is another blow to already strained relations between Tokyo and Seoul. [Japan Times]

27 October 2020

Japan-US relations: Large joint military exercise

(dql) In a show of force towards China, Japan and the United States on Monday kicked off the Keen Sword air, sea and land exercises around Japan. The bi-annual drill involves dozens of warships, hundreds of aircraft and nearly 50.000 troops from both countries. Among the warships are Japan’s biggest warship and the US aircraft carrier the USS Ronald Reagan along with its escort destroyers.

Lasting until to Nov. 5, the exercise will for the first time include cyber and electronic warfare training for the first time. [Reuters]

27 October 2020

Japan: Government white paper reveals record high number of suicides among young people

(dql) According to data of a government white paper presented last week, the number of suicide victims per population of 100,000 came to 3.1 for people under 20 in Japan in 2019. It is a rise of 0.3 compared to 2018 marking a new record high. The suicide rate for all age groups, meanwhile, is at 16.0, a decrease for the 10th consecutive year and the lowest rate since recording begun in 1978. [Nippon]

Earlier this month, data of Japan’s National Police revealed a surge in self-killings amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 1.800 people taking their lives in August, an increase of almost 15% compared with the same month last year. The government is looking into the link with the coronavirus epidemic. [Deutsche Welle]

CPG will organize on 12 November an AiR webinar on the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on the society in Thailand, addressing – among other issues – the high number of suicides linked to psychological and economic pressure under the lockdown.

27 October 2020

Japan: Ruling party’s heavyweight resigns as faction leader 

(dql) Shigeru Ishiba, a political heavyweight of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) last month, announced that he is resigning as head of his faction within the LDP, citing his poor result in last month’s race for the party leadership against Yoshihide Suga who is now prime minister.

Ishiba, a former minister of defense and agriculture who also served as LDP secretary general is as vocal critic of Suga’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe and tried four times to become LDP president. Until his resignation he led a 19-member faction of the LDP in parliament that now needs a new chief. [Japan Times]

20 October 2020

Japan: Campaign for LGBT equality law kicked off

(dql) Japanese sexual minority groups and human rights organizations launched an online signature collecting campaign for a petition for an LGBT equality law to expand explicit legal protection for sexual minorities.

Despite modest improvements in equal treatment of LGBT people, same-sex marriage is still not legally allowed in Japan, while transgender people must remove their reproductive organs to have sex changes identified in official documents, to name two of the most pressing issues the campaign organizers want to tackle. Furthermore, pressure to conform with societal norms and values still forces many LGBT people to hide their sexual identities. [Kyodo News] [AP] [OECD]

20 October 2020

Vietnam, Japan visit with arms deal in tow

(jn) On his three-day state visit starting on Sunday, newly appointed Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihige Suga agreed with his counterpart Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in Hanoi on Monday to accelerate the reopening of borders for short-term business travelers and restart two-way passenger flights. This comes after both countries had already decided in July to resume business travel for expatriates and long-term residents.

Seemingly acknowledging China’s geopolitical rise in the region, the two leaders also agreed to cooperate on the “free and open Indo-Pacific” initiative. Japan is one of the countries that Vietnam is turning to in its effort to find other economic and military allies as response to China’s ambitions, especially in the South China Sea dispute.

Both stressed the importance of ensuring maritime safety and security in the South China Sea as well as peaceful dispute settlement and the adherence to international law. Regarding the latter they referred to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), and the aspired Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).

The prime ministers signed twelve agreements on the economy, environment, public infrastructure, healthcare, agriculture, energy, and the transfer of defense technologies. The energy agreements particularly deal with a thermal power plant and a liquefied natural gas power plant, both under development and expected to start operation in 2026.

Mr. Suga also said that his government would provide Vietnam healthcare equipment worth almost $38 million to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

He also met with Vietnamese President and Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong on Monday. [Asia Nikkei Review 1] [Vietnam Express]

One of the most significant agreements that Japan and Vietnam signed allows Japan to export defense equipment and technology to Vietnam. Mr. Suga said that it was “a big step in the field of security for both countries that we reached an agreement in principle” in this area. [Reuters]

Mr. Suga’s trip to South East Asia was set to focus on security cooperation between countries that each face the geopolitical encroachment of China on their doorsteps, most prominently in the South China Sea dispute. With such a cooperation and potential arms sales, Japan aims to prop up the defense capabilities of other Indo-Pacific nations to rein in Chinese maritime advances. Among the military goods Japan could also offer are patrol and transport planes as well as warning and control radar systems.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) 80% of Vietnam’s arms in the last decade came from Russia, however, the country has intensified cooperation with Japan and the U.S. in the face of rising Chinese dominance.  [Asia Nikkei Review 2] [Vietnam News]


20 October 2020

Indonesia, Japan to strengthen bilateral ties

(nd) Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, after visiting Vietnam, arrived in Indonesia and put another emphasis on the importance of South East Asian for Japan, for achieving peace in South China Sea and advertised Japan’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” concept of regional cooperation in light of current military conflicts with China. The successor to recently resigned Shinzo Abe thereby continues  his predecessor’s foreign policy.

“I emphasize the spirit of cooperation to continue to be strengthened, especially in the midst of increasingly sharp rivalries between the world’s superpower nations,” Suga said when meeting with president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

The leaders agreed to strengthen bilateral ties as well as defense and military cooperation, working towards a defense equipment and technology transfer agreement. Such was signed with Vietnam on Monday, existing equipment transfer deals are with 11 other countries, including the US, UK, the Philippines and Malaysia, and in negotiation with Thailand, and were subsequently made after  easing arms exports ban in 2014. Additionally, Japan extended a 50 billion yen ($470 million) loan to support Indonesia’s economy, as well as furthering infrastructure projects like a high-speed rail systems and the development of remote islands. The countries also agreed to enable easing entry restrictions for essential business travel.

As opposed to China’s unilateral and military activity, which has caused tension in the region, Japan is showcasing a rule-based international system as an alternative for ASEAN nations. [Star Tribune]

20 October 2020

Taiwan, Japan, and USA discuss intellectual property rights protection 

(ef) Taiwan, the US, and Japan held a two-day workshop on the protection of trade secrets and intellectual property rights under the Global Cooperation and Training Framework (GCTF). The US representative stressed the importance of interaction, IPR protection, investment, and innovation in order to stay competitive in a modern global economy.

The GCTF is a Taiwanese-US initiative that was launched in 2015 to expose Taiwan’s expertise and leadership to the global stage. In 2019, Japan joined as a full partner. [Focus Taiwan]

20 October 2020

Japan: Newest warship revealed

(dql) Japan’s newest submarine Taigei was unveiled last week, a 3,000-ton attack submarine which measures 84 meters in length and 9.1 meters in width and is expected to go into service in March 2022. It joins Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force’s submarine fleet as its 22nd vessel. 

The disclosure comes at a time of intensified Chinese naval activity around a collection of Japan-administered islands in the East China Sea, claimed by both Japan and China. The islands are believed to inhabit oil and natural gas reserves and are located close to important shipping routes and lucrative fishing areas. [Newsweek]

In an earlier development, Japan announced to establish three electronic defense units on islands facing the East China Sea by March 2022, in part to gather information on Beijing’s increasing activities in the East China Sea. [Nikkei Asian Review]

13 October 2020

Japan: Rare solo maritime exercise in South China Sea

(dql) At a time when India and China are about to edge towards a war and ‘Quad’ cohesion is growing, Japan just deployed three warships to the West Philippine Sea for anti-submarine exercises including one of its light helicopter aircraft carriers. To replenish supply, the warships will use Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay. [Japan Times]

The exercises are one of rare occasions in decades in which Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces embark on a solo mission outside Japanese territorial waters.

13 October 2020

Japan-Mongolia: Joining efforts to promote Free and Open Indo-Pacific

(dql) Japanese and Mongolian Foreign Ministers – Toshimitsu Motegi and Nyamtseren Enkhtaivan – last week agreed to cooperate in promoting a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” during the former’s visit to Ulaanbaatar last week. They also agreed on stepping up security, medical and economic cooperation, and signed a 235 million USD emergency loan to help the pandemic-hit Mongolian economy and fund medical equipment. [Yahoo News] [Kyodo News]

Motegi’s visit came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo canceled a trip to Mongolia because of President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 infection. According to Shannon Tiezzi in [The Diplomat] the cancellation of the visit defrauded the USA from an opportunity to profit from an anti-China sentiment currently running high in Mongolia over the sidelining of Mongolian-language education in China’s Inner Mongolia region.  

13 October 2020

Japan: Bolstering intelligence with regard to China

(dql) In an attempt to bolster its defense against China, Japan will establish three electronic defense units on islands facing the East China Sea by March 2022, in part to gather information on Beijing’s increasing activities in the East China Sea. [Nikkei Asian Review]

In an earlier move, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force announced that it has inducted the Kawasaki RC-2 electronic intelligence aircraft, a new generation of intelligence gathering aircraft equipped with multiple aircraft fairings containing antennas for detecting, receiving and classifying electronic emissions. [c4isrnet]

13 October 2020

Japan and South Korea resume business travel

(dql) Japan and South Korea last week agreed to resume business travels between the countries which had been halted due to the pandemic over the past months, with Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi stressing the importance of “exchanges of people from both countries, starting with businesspeople,” in an “extremely severe situation” of the countries’ relations. 

The agreement allows for short-term business trips without requiring the traveler to observe 14-day self-isolation periods if they test negative for the coronavirus and submit travel itineraries, among other preventive measures. [Japan Today]

Tokyo and Seoul have been logged in bitter dispute over forced labor during Japan’s rule on the Korean peninsula since South Korean courts in 2018 ordered Japanese companies to compensate South Korean victims of forced labor.

6 October 2020

India, Sri Lanka hold first virtual summit

(lm) At their first virtual summit on September 26, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa agreed to expand maritime cooperation between their countries to stabilize the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal in the face of China’s growing ambitions in these regions. After Sri Lanka last month had announced its “India First Policy” – a reiteration of its commitment not to allow a third country to use its land or waters for anti-Indian activities [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1] – India clearly continued to step up efforts to win back ground lost to Beijing. [South China Morning Post] [Deccan Herald]

Firstly, India promised to consider Colombo’s request for delayed debt repayment and a $1 billion currency swap arrangement. In July, the Reserve Bank of India had already signed an agreement for extending a $400 million currency swap to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) until November 2022 in order to help the CBSL balance the country’s payment requirements [see AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4]. Further, in a bid to reduce Sri Lanka’s dependence on China, India is reportedly working on a plan to offer Sri Lanka $50-million Line of Credit (LoC) in the defense sector. [The Economic Times]

However, on at least two issues – the East Container Terminal (ECT) project in Colombo and the implementation of the 13th Amendment – the Rajapaksa brothers so far have not yielded to pressure from New Delhi. [The Diplomat]

In the run-up to the August general election, Colombo had suspended the ECT project, which India, Japan, and Sri Lanka were to jointly implement [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2]. Although Japan and India are keen to see the deep-sea container terminal implemented, there have been no signs so far that Mahinda is thinking of reviving it. What is more, Mahinda visited the Port City project in Colombo earlier this month and called for the construction of the project to be accelerated, saying the BRI project would be the country’s future main source of revenue. The Colombo Port City project is being executed by a subsidiary of the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC). [Xinhua]

Neither did the meeting result in a bridging of the gap in their positions on the question of Sri Lankan Tamil rights. Just hours after both countries had issued a joint statement, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s office released a separate statement, making no mention of Mr. Modi’s call, or the 13th Constitutional Amendment which provides for devolution of power to provincial councils. [The Hindu]

6 October 2020

Japan-South Korea relations: Tokyo set conditions for a Suga-Moon summit

(dql) In a statement further hardening the protracted impasse in the dispute over wartime forced labor between Japan and South Korea, Tokyo announced that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will not visit South Korea for a trilateral summit with China unless he has a guarantee that assets seized from a Japanese company following a South Korean court ruling will not be liquidated. [Kyodo News]

The announcement echoes Suga’s hardline stance in the dispute expressed towards South Korean President Moon Jae-in in a recent phone talk. Suga demanded from Seoul to enable a “return to a constructive relationship,” referring to South Korean court rulings in 2018 and 2019 which ordered the confiscation of assets of involved Japanese firms’ to compensate victims of forced labor during Japan’s rule on the Korean peninsula. Tokyo, however, maintains the compensation issue had been resolved by the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, and has since refused to accept the court rulings. [AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5]

6 October 2020

Japan, South Korea at the UN General Assembly

(dql) In a statement reasserting Japan’s claim to a major role in the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, vowed at the virtually held UN General Assembly that Japan will “proactively lead” international efforts to fight the coronavirus. He, furthermore, addressed the issue of abductions by North Korea where he reassured Japan’s commitment to normalizing ties North Korea and to “comprehensively resolving the outstanding issues of concern such as the abductions, nuclear and missile issues, as well as settlement of the unfortunate past,” adding that was willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “without any conditions.” [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan: full text of Suga’s speech]

Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who also reaffirmed his countries commitment to a global and multilateral response to the pandemic, demanded “declaring an end to the [Korean] War,” as necessary move to “open the door to complete denuclearization and permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” [Yonhap: full text of Moon’s speech]

This position contradicts Washington’s strategy which follows a “denuclearization first and peace treaty later”. [Korea Times]

To access all speeches of the UN General Assembly, see [United Nations].

6 October 2020

Japan-France relations: Deepening relations

(dql) During a meeting last week in Paris, Japanese and French Foreign Ministers Toshimitsu Motegi and Jean-Yves Le Drian agreed to strengthen cooperation in response to the global coronavirus pandemic and over maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region. The latter includes close cooperation in monitoring activities at sea as part of efforts to prevent North Korean vessels from engaging in illicit ship-to-ship cargo transfers to circumvent U.N. sanctions imposed over the country’s missile and nuclear programs. The agreement is a latest sign of increasingly close security ties between Japan and France, reflected in particular by joint military exercises at sea and regular bilateral foreign and defense ministers’ talks. [Kyodo News

France, which possesses territories in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean and maintains a military base in New Caledonia, is one of two European countries next to Germany which Motegi’s is visiting on his tour to Europe before going to the Middle East, with a focus on courting countries of these regions for Japan’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” strategy. France last year and Germany recently have issued their Indo-Pacific strategies. [Nikkei Asian Review] [AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]

Motegi’s visit comes at a time when China is stepping up overtures to Europe, in an attempt to prevent further diplomatic tensions in addition to those with the USA. 

6 October 2020

Japan’s Defense Ministry requests record high budget

(dql) Japan’s Defense Ministry revealed its draft budget for the next fiscal year starting April 2021, with a record total spending of nearly 52 billion USD, an increase of over 8% compared with the 2020 budget. The Ministry justified its request by the need to boost the country’s military capacity to respond to new threats, including cyber, space and electromagnetic warfare. [Defense News]

New spending includes, according the draft, 690 million USD for the expansion of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces’ space unit and Space Situational Awareness surveillance system, as well as 340 million USD for the creation of its cyberspace defense unit and electromagnetic warfare capabilities. [CNN]

For details on the proposed spending see Mari Yamaguchi in [Defense News].

In a related development, Japan’s Defense Ministry announced plans to deploy new F-35A state-of-the-art stealth fighters to Air Self-Defense Force bases other than the current host, the Misawa base in Aomori Prefecture in northeastern Japan. In this context, the Ministry has requested budget of nearly 400 million USD in fiscal 2021 to procure four F-35As in fiscal 2025. [Nippon]

The announcement comes at a time when Japan is preparing for difficult negations with the US over Tokyo’s share of the cost of hosting around 54,000 American troops in Japan for the next five-year period beginning with fiscal 2021. The Trump administration is requesting 8 billion USD annually for the presence, a massive increase from 1.8 billion USD a year under the current agreement. The twice-a-decade negotiations are scheduled for this week. [Mainichi] [Nikkei Asian Review]

6 October 2020

Top diplomats from ‘Quad’ countries meet in Tokyo

(lm) Japan is hosting a meeting of the foreign ministers of the United States, India, Australia, and Japan, in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) seen as a counter to China’s influence in the region. The forum brings together Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and India’s Subrahmanyam Jaishankar to discuss issues including the coronavirus pandemic and the regional situation. [The Japan Times]

In the run-up to the ministerial meeting, a senior US state department official dismissed talk of formalizing the association, saying the United States wanted to strengthen existing regional architectures, not create new ones. Speculation about Washington’s interest to explore a new framework for Indo-Pacific cooperation, dubbed the “Quad Plus”, received a boost in September, when US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said that the US was aiming to “formalize” the groupings’ military, economic and development cooperation. Though cautioning visions of an Indo-Pacific NATO, at that time, Biegun emphasized that the format shall remain open for other countries to join but “align in a more structured manner” [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]. [Hindustan Times]

The Quad meeting comes as the trade ministers of Japan, India and Australia agreed this month to work toward a “Supply Chain Resilience Initiative” in the Indo-Pacific region, following reports that the three nations are looking to work together to secure supply chains and reduce dependence on China [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4].

In August, India had made public its intentions to invite the Australian Navy to join the annual instalment of the Malabar exercise, completing the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) [see AiR No. 29, July/2020, 3]. A formal invitation to Australia to join the exercises is still pending.

6 October 2020

China-Japan relations: Tokyo protests Chinese digital museum of disputed East China See islands 

(dql) China reassured its claims to the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea by launching an online “museum” showcasing material to “help visitors understanding why China has indisputable sovereign rights over the territory.” [Global Times]

Diaoyu Islands or Senkaku islands in Japanese refer to a group of uninhabited islands that are administered by Japan but claimed by both countries. The dispute increased to strain Sino-Japanese relations after Tokyo bought the islands from a private owner in September 2012. Now, Japan has lodged a diplomatic protest against the Chinese claims. [The Star Online] [Japan News]


6 October 2020

Japan: Science Council nominees rejected by Prime Minister for political reasons?

(dql) Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in a historic first refused to appoint six nominees for the Science Council of Japan among 105 nominations, proposed by the Council. It is speculated that Suga’s rejections of the nominees is politically motivated as the refused scholars had criticized legislation adopted by the previous Abe administration which Suga served as chief cabinet secretary. [Mainichi]

Suga dismissed these speculations stressing that the issue had nothing to do with academic freedom. However, he remained silent on the reasons for his decision. [Asahi Shimbun]

The Science Council is the representative organization of Japanese scholars and scientists, an independent organization established in 1949 and aiming at promoting and enhancing science to be “reflected in and permeated into administration, industries and people’s lives.” It consists of 210 members serving staggered 6-year terms, with half of them appointed by the Prime Minister every three years upon recommendation of the Council. [Science Council of Japan]

6 October 2020

Indonesia, Vietnam to be first on Suga’s list

(nd) According to Japanese media outlets, Japan’s newly appointed Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide is considering his first state trip to be to Indonesia and Vietnam. Predecessor Abe Shinzo’s first state visits after his reelection in 2021 were also Vietnam and Indonesia, emphasizing his vision of the “free and open Indo-Pacific.” Suga is committed to continuing Abe’s foreign policy to strike a careful balance between economic engagement and strategic competition with China, and a special focus on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). With its position between two oceans, Southeast Asia became a key focus of Japanese diplomacy. Bilateral relations improved under Abe, intensifying trade, security cooperation and infrastructure development, with strategic partnerships in place since 2006 (Indonesia) respectively 2014 (Vietnam). Both countries’ relationship to Japan are forged by shared concerns over Chinese presence, be it either in disputed waters of East and South China Sea or through infrastructure funding under the Belt and Road Initiative. [The Diplomat]

6 October 2020

Japan, Maldives sign COVID-19 emergency support loan

(lm) The Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA) signed on Wednesday a $47.5 million loan agreement with the Maldives, marking Japan’s largest concessional loan extended to the island nation in history. The same day, the governments of the two countries signed an Exchange of Notes, which is a precursor to the signing of a formal Loan Agreement. Taken together, the two agreements signed on Wednesday are designed to facilitate a COVID-19 Crisis Response Emergency Support Loan. [The Edition] []


6 October 2020

Indian Navy exercises with Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force

(lm) In an effort to increase the naval cooperation with Japan, the Indian Navy previously conducted a three-day bilateral maritime exercise with ships from the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) between September 26 and 28 in the Norther Arabian Sea. The exercise marked the fourth time the two nations have held the biannual “JIMEX 2020” drill. The last JIMEX exercise was conducted in October 2018 off Visakhapatnam, India. [American Military News] [Times Now News]

Prior to this, The Indian Navy undertook a Passage Exercise (PASSEX) together with the Royal Australian Navy from September 23 to September 24 in the East Indian Ocean Region (IOR) [see AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5].

29 September 2020

Japan-Russia relations: Tokyo protest against Russia military drill in disputed territories

(dql) Japan has lodged a protest over a Russian military exercise involving more than 1,500 personnel on the coast of Kunashiri Island, part of a group of islands at the heart of a long-standing territorial dispute between the two countries which are called the Northern Territories by Tokyo and the Southern Kurils by Moscow. [Mainichi]

29 September 2020

China-Japan relations: Leaders agree on wide range of cooperation amid persisting differences over disputed territories in the East China Sea

(dql) During their phone talk last Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga agreed on close cooperation to further development of bilateral ties – including high-level contacts to promote regional and international stability as well as cooperation on trade, North Korea and Japan’s efforts to retrieve Japanese victims of Pyongyang’s abductions in the 1970s and 1980s.

At the same time, differences over thorny issues were exchanged, including Beijing’s imposition of the national security law for Hong Kong and the territorial dispute over a group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, called Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, and claimed by both sides. In summer Chinese government ships had been sailing for more than 100 straight days in the waters around these islets. Suga reassured a hardline stance on the territorial dispute in the East China Sea, calling the islands an inherent part of Japan’s territory, both in terms of history and international law. [Nikkei Asian Review] [Reuters]  [NHK]

29 September 2020

India, Denmark elevate ties to “Green Strategic Partnership”

(lm) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen on Monday held a virtual summit which marked the establishment of a ‘Green Strategic Partnership’ that aims to create a framework for significant expansion of cooperation in areas of renewable energy, circular economy, water management, and urban development [see Joint Statement for India-Denmark Green Strategic Partnership]. The meeting marked Mr. Modi’s first virtual summit with a counterpart from a European Union nation. [Zee News Limited] [Hindustan Times]

In his opening remarks, Mr. Modi highlighted the importance for countries to diversify away from trade and supply chain dependence, adding that the summit “will not only prove useful for India-Denmark relations, but will also help in building a common approach towards global challenges.” In light of simmering trade and political tensions with China, Japan, India and Australia are already moving towards a “Supply Chain Resilience Initiative”. Informal talks have been ongoing since Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry first broached the idea with the Indian government in July [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]. [Asian News International]


29 September 2020

Japan-South Korea relations: Leaders agree to improve countries’ strained relations

(dql) Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and South Korean President Moon Jae-in held as phone conversation, the first exchange between the leaders of the two countries since a meeting between Suga’s predecessor Abe and Moon prior to which no formal summit had been held for 15 months, reflecting frosty relationships between the two nations which deteriorated over the issue of forced labor during Japan’s rule on the Korean peninsula.

South Korean courts in 2018 and 2019 ruled in favor of victims of forced labor and ordered the confiscation of assets of involved Japanese firms’ in Korea to compensate the victims. Tokyo, however, refused to accept the decision, arguing that the issue had been resolved in the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, and retaliated with putting Korea from its list of favored trade partners, while imposing restrictions on exports of key semi-conductor related materials to Korea.

Against this background, the conversation revolved around the question on how to improve the ties, with approaches on the two sides proving to be quite different. While Suga called on Seoul to bring about conditions for both countries to “return to a constructive relationship,” signaling a hardline stance taken already by Abe, Moon appeared more conciliatory, urging both sides to “seek the best solution that can be accepted by all those concerned.” [Kyodo News] [Korea Times]


22 September 2020

Japan: Tattooing not a medical skill only

(dql) In a landmark decision Japan’s Supreme Court, the country’s top court, has ruled that tattooing is not to be considered medical treatment or an act linked to health care, making it possible for tattoo artists with no medical license to legally tattoo. The court’s decision upholds a verdict of a High Court back in 2018, against which the prosecution had appealed. Under Japan’s Medical Practitioners’ Act of 1948, tattooing people without a medical license is punishable up to almost 10.000 USD in fines or three years imprisonment, or both. [Kyodo News] [Inked]

22 September 2020

Japan: New Prime Minister elected

(dql) Two days after winning the race for the leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) [AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3], Yoshihide Suga was elected as Japan’s new Prime Minister after securing 314 out of 462 votes in the parliamentary elections session last Wednesday. He succeeds Shinzo Abe in this office who resigned because of poor health last month. [AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]

His premiership comes at a time when Japan is struggling to cope with the impact of the economic fallout of the pandemic, with the country’s central bank announcing last week that “Japan’s economy remains in a severe state but has started to pick up as business activity gradually resumes.” The new prime minister vowed to continue Abenomics and to find a balance between fighting a rise in infections and resuming economic and social activity, adding that to keep businesses going and keep jobs remains crucial in his policy. [Mainichi] [Reuters]

For the challenges lying ahead for Suga’s efforts to overcome the pandemic, especially against the background of the lackluster response to Covid-19 of his predecessor, see Hiromi Murakami in [East Asia Forum], who argues that Suga needs to display “badly-needed bold leadership and finally orchestrate a united effort.”

For sketches of the political career of Suga, the son of a farmer, who entered politics in 1996 as a self-made politician to become the longest serving Chief Cabinet Secretary reputed for “ruthlessly controlling the bureaucracy” before assuming the office of Prime Minister, see [The Conversation] and [Kyodo News].

For profiles of the new, 21-member cabinet, which signals continuity as it is filled with many who were already members of the Abe cabinet, see [Kyodo News].

22 September 2020

Asian financial leaders agree to make ‘all policy efforts’ to fight pandemic

(jn) Financial leaders from China, Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia vowed on Friday to redouble their efforts to help the region recover economically from the coronavirus and to defend a multilateral system of trade and investment. In a joint statement they vowed to “remain vigilant to the continued downside risks [and to take] steps to reduce vulnerabilities to these risks and […] to continue to use all available policy tools to support the sustained recovery.” They also said they remain committed “to uphold an open and rule-based multilateral trade and investment system, and strengthen regional integration and cooperation.”

The statement followed the annual meetings of finance ministers and central bank governors from China, Japan, South Korea and the 10-member ASEAN. The meetings were held via teleconference on the sidelines of the annual gathering of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). [Reuters]

15 September 2020

South Korea: Joint naval drills with USA, Japan and Australia

(dql) South Korea’s Navy last week joined the multinational maritime exercise Pacific Vanguard, led by the USA and participated also by Japan and Australia. The three-day exercise was held in waters near Guam and included live-fire, surface warfare, combined maneuver, anti-submarine warfare and replenishment-at-sea drills. The 7,600-ton Aegis destroyer Seoae Ryu Sung-ryong and the 4,400-ton Chungmugong Yi Sun-shin were dispatched by Seoul to the exercise. [KBS] [Stars and Stripes]

15 September 2020

Japan-United Kingdom relations: Trade agreement concluded

(dql) Japan and Britain last week reached agreement in principle on a trade deal that is expected to increase bilateral trade by 15 billion pounds annually. To be formalized in October, the deal replicates most of the existing Economic Partnership Agreement between Japan and the EU of 2018, maintaining the removal of tariffs and other trade barriers, while adding new digital provisions such as a ban on data localization. 

For the UK, the agreement – Britain’s first post-Brexit deal – comes at a critical moment as London and Brussels are amidst a bitter dispute about new British legislation which breaches parts of the EU-UK withdrawal agreement, making a no-deal Brexit possible. [CNN] [AP]

15 September 2020

Japan-India relations: Military logistical support agreement signed

(dql) Japan and India have signed a military agreement on the exchange logistical support, including providing each country’s military forces with supplies and services such as food, fuel and spare parts, as well as transportation and the use of each other’s facilities in joint exercises and U.N. peacekeeping operations. [Kyodo News]

The agreement is the latest signal of increasingly close security cooperation between both countries under the Abe administration which started with the “Japan and India Vision 2025 Special Strategic and Global Partnership” announced by Abe and Modi during the former’s visit to India in December 2015. See for the major points and steps of this development Mark S Cogan and Vivek Mishra in [Deccan Herald].

15 September 2020

Japan: New major party formed

(dql) The new Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan was formally launched on Tuesday through the merger of two parties, the Democratic Party for the People and the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, seeking to become an alternative political force to the long-dominant ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). 

The new party which took over the name of the larger of the two merging parties holds 107 seats in the House of Representatives and 43 in the House of Councillors, compared with 284 and 113 seats respectively for the LDP. [Mainichi


15 September 2020

Japan: Chief Cabinet Secretary set to become next Prime Minister after winning LPD presidency election

(dql) As widely expected, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga won the race for the leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) against his contenders: LDP policy chief and former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, and former LDP Secretary general and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba. 

At Monday’s election meeting, Suga secured 377 votes, compared with 89 and 68 for Kishida and Ishiba respectively. The victory paves the way his election as Japan’s next Prime Minister in an extraordinary session of the parliament this week as the LDP commands the majority in both chambers of the Diet. [AP] [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]

Following his election, Suga pledged to focus on tackling the coronavirus pandemic and the nation’s economic woes and dismissed speculations about a snap election which had floated in the run-up to the election. [Nikkei Asian Review] [Mainichi]

8 September 2020

Vietnam and Japan are deepening business ties

(nd) While Japan grants Vietnam US $ 19 million of non-refundable aid for the fight against Covid-19. [Hanoi Times 1], Japanese investments are rising in wake of the shift of regional and global supply chains with a several Japanese firms seemingly considering to move production facilities to Vietnam. The countries also want to resume air travels between them. [Vietnam News]

Vietnam is one of the beneficiaries of the Japanese “China plus 1” strategy to diversify supply chains into other countries than solely China due to rising production costs and trade tensions between China and the US. To improve competitiveness, the Vietnamese government’s development strategy focuses on creating a suitable legal framework, infrastructure and invests in human resources. [Hanoi Times 2][ Hanoi Times 3]

In October, the third annual Indo-Pacific Business Forum (IPBF) will take place in Hanoi. The first edition of the format was held in Washington D.C. in July 2018, the second in Bangkok in November 2019. The forum is part of US efforts to improve geopolitical and economic presence in the region. [Hanoi Times 4]

For prospects of Vietnam-Japan relations at large in the post-Abe time, see Phuong Pham at [Asia Times] who predicts that – on the basis of Abe’s legacy of strong Tokyo-Hanoi relations – both countries “extensive strategic partnership will still thrive in the future.”

8 September 2020

Japan: Advancing military capabilities 

(dql) Japan has informed the USA about its plans to build specialized ships to counter ballistic missiles as the most viable alternative to the withdrawn plan to deploy land-based, U.S.-developed Aegis Ashore systems. [Kyodo News]

In a related move, Japan has announced its plans to acquire by March 2022 Norwegian Kongsberg Defence Aerospace Joint Strike Missiles designed to be carried in the new F-35A’s internal weapons bay, with a range of about 500 kilometers capable of attacking targets from outside the ranges of enemy missiles. [Defence Blog]

8 September 2020

Japan-Australia relations to be deepened

(dql) Reflecting growing efforts to deepen relations between Japan and Australia to counter China, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison in a phone conversation reaffirmed the importance to strengthen their countries’ security cooperation to play a leading role in the region. [Japan Times]

The pledge follows another recent sign of increasingly close Japanese-Australian ties after Japan, Australia and India have started discussions on a joint “Supply Chain Resilience Initiative” in a move to reduce dependence on China. [Air No. 34, August/2020, 4]

8 September 2020

Japan: Race for Abe succession kicks off

(dql) Following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s resignation [AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1], the competition for his succession has been kicked off with three candidates vying for the presidency of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) which would make them Japanese Prime Minister as the LDP commands the majority in the Diet. Among them are Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) policy chief and former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, and former LDP Secretary general and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba. The winner will serve as Prime Minister for the remaining year of Abe’s term.

The decision will be made at an election meeting scheduled for 16 September, with the winner needing to secure the majority of a total of 788 votes with 394 votes coming from LDP Diet members and the same number from rank-and-file party members. [Mainichi 1]

For assessments of winning chances of ‘bureaucrat’ Suga – he has been see Chief Cabinet Secretary since 2012, the year Abe became Prime Minister for a second time – see [Reuters] and [The Diplomat].

In a related development, a large majority of local LDP prefectural chapters announce plans to hold primaries to select the new party leader prior the election meeting. [Mainichi 2]

1 September 2020

Japan: Prime Minister Abe resigns

(dql) Citing health reasons, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last Friday announced to step down as Prime Minister, after close to eight years in this post, making him the country’s longest serving head of government. 

Abe’s resignation, which had been speculated after two hospital visits within a week, comes one year ahead of the official end of the term and leaves policies he had vowed to complete during his term – such as the amendment to Art. 9 of the constitution and the coronavirus pandemic – to his successor. Potential candidates to succeed him include Fumio Kishida, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party policy chief and a former foreign minister; chief Cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga, in office since 2012, the year Abe returned to power; and Shigeru Ishiba, a former defense minister and vocal critic of Abe on a number of policy issues. Analysts believe the succession will be a challenge to intra-party unity, hitherto secured by Abe’s leadership, as rival factions will file and push their own candidates. [BBC] [Kyodo News] [Aljazeera] [CNBC]

For other factors than health problems, playing a role in Abe’s resignation, see Aurelia George Mulgan in [East Asia Forum] who in particular points to an unprecedented rapid fall in popularity over his coronavirus policy and the perception of Abe as an indecisive lame duck-leader among the population. 

1 September 2020

Indo-Pacific: U.S. pushes to formalize the Quad

(ls) On the sidelines of the annual U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said that the U.S. was aiming to “formalize” military, economic and development cooperation in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or “Quad”, the strategic forum of the U.S., India, Japan and Australia. Though cautioning visions of an Indo-Pacific NATO, Biegun emphasized that the format shall remain open for other countries to join but “align in a more structured manner”. [Japan Times] [Hindustan Times]

India is expected to extend an invitation to Australia to participate in the annual Malabar naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal, which has been delayed this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The exercise has been conducted by the U.S. and India since 1992. Japan has been included in 2015. In 2007, India and Singapore joined as well, but refrained from further participation over apparent concerns of antagonizing China. [South China Morning Post]

25 August 2020

Japan: Party merger

(dql) The Democratic Party for the People, Japan’s second-largest opposition party, has decided to disband and to merge with the largest opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party, to establish a new party which will command around 150 seats in both chambers of the Diet.  

Due to persisting differences between the two groups over several crucial policy areas – including nuclear power, the consumption tax and constitutional revision –, analysts doubt that the new party will be able to form a serious alternative to the ruling coalition of Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito. [Japan Times

25 August 2020

Japanese Foreign Minister visits Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia

(jn) Japanese foreign minister Motegi Toshimitsu visited Laos from August 22-24 to mark the 65th Anniversary of diplomatic relations between Laos and Japan. Among several topics, both sides discussed whether to allow long-term residents of each other’s nations, and investors and businesspeople, to travel between the two countries while maintaining the requirement of a fourteen-day quarantine at home or at another designated area. Such travelers would be monitored throughout their stay, but it would make commerce possible, with the Lao side keen to see more Japanese businesses move their operations to Laos. [Laotian Times]

Mr. Motegi also visited Cambodia and Myanmar, where he met with his respective counterparts, Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, and agreed to reopen borders for expatriates as soon as early September, relaxing travel restrictions that were imposed to contain the spread of the new coronavirus pandemic. Similar to the deal between Laos and Japan, expatriates and other long-term residents will be allowed to travel reciprocally provided they self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving and take other precautionary measures. [Nikkei Asian Review 1] [Nikkei Asian Review 2]

25 August 2020

India, Japan, Australia: Increasing supply chain resilience to reduce dependence on China

(lm) As the coronavirus pandemic has already brought to the fore the importance of diversification away from trade and supply chain dependence, Japan, India and Australia are now moving towards a new trilateral effort, in face of simmering trade and political tension with China. Informal talks have been ongoing since Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry first broached the idea of a “Supply Chain Resilience Initiative” with the Indian government around a month ago. Because Tokyo is eager to bring the talks to a higher level, the proposal is expected to be discussed further during the India-Japan summit in early September. [The Economic Times] [The Print]

The proposal centers around a two-stage plan, which aims at attracting foreign direct investment to turn the Indo-Pacific into an “economic powerhouse” by linking up all the separate existing bilateral relationships, such as the recently established Indo-Japan Industrial Competitiveness Partnership. Moreover, the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) may be brought into the loop to establish new “China+1” strategies for supply chains outside China and build momentum towards a new trade-based quadrilateral alliance. [South China Morning Post]

In light of China`s aggressive moves on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh, New Delhi is also keen to improve political ties with leaders in the neighborhood and may fast track the proposal, which it would otherwise treat more cautiously due to the signaling effect towards Beijing. Joining the initiative would be in line with both Australia`s and India`s mission to follow-up on their recently launched Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. In June, both countries had agreed to develop new supply chains in key industries, such as rare earths and minerals, while launching the partnership. Shortly thereafter, India made public its intentions to invite the Australian Navy to join the annual instalment of the Malabar exercise (together with the US, Australia, Japan and India form the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or “Quad”. [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2] [AiR No. 29, July/2020, 3] [Business Standard]

During a virtual summit in July, Japanese Prime Minister Abe and his Australian counterpart Morrison addressed the question of how to intensify their countries´ security relationship in face of China´s increasing activities in the Indo-Pacific. [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2]

25 August 2020

Japan-USA relations: Show of military force against China

(dql) In a clear show of force directed against China, the USA and Japan last week conducted joint large-scale military exercises in the waters and airspace near Japan which involved warships, heavy bombers, advanced fighter jets and an aircraft carrier. The drills were held when at the same time Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono met the Chinese Ambassador to Japan to express Tokyo’s strong concern over China’s military activities around the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, claimed also by Beijing which calls them Diaoyu islands, and to demand that China refrain from those military activities.  [Japan Times]

In a related move, US B-1B Lancers and two B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers flew over waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan. [Korea Herald]

For a discussion of Japan’s efforts to deepen its relations with the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence sharing group consisting of the USA, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, see Ankit Panda in [The Diplomat] who point to Japan’s counter-intelligence capabilities and argues that unless Japan can convince these five members “that its accession to the group would not greatly expand the attack surface for adversarial countries seeking to compromise intelligence shared among the group,” Tokyo will only maintain its status as a close Five Eyes partner but not become a formal “sixth eye.”

18 August 2020

China-Japan relations: Diplomatic tensions over disputed islands in East China Sea

(dql) Sino-Japanese tensions over disputed islands in the East China Sea are flaring up. This Tuesday, Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono met the Chinese Ambassador to Japan to express Tokyo’s strong concern over China’s military activities around the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, claimed also by Beijing which calls them Diaoyu islands, and to demand that China refrain from those military activities. [Nippon]

For a discussion of the question of whether it is thinkable that Japan would refrain from responding military to a takeover of the disputed islands and cede them to China see Grant Newsham at [Asia Times] who argues that it is.

18 August 2020

Japan: Population continues to decline for a 11th straight year

(dql) Japan is facing the 11th consecutive tear with a declining population of nationals. According to latest government data, in 2019, people 65 years and older made up a record 28.41% of the country’s total population, while the number of newborn babies dropped below 900,000 for the first time ever, resulting in Japan – the world’s third-largest economy – being confronted with shrinking labor force at a time when soaring social security spending to cover pensions and medical care for the elderly is heavily burdening on the budget.

11 August 2020

Asian countries protesting, cooperating over Chinese posture in South China Sea

(ls) Vietnam is going to purchase six patrol boats from Japan to boost its Coast Guard’s maritime law enforcement capabilities. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) signed a $345 million loan agreement with the Vietnamese government at the end of July. It is the first deal of this kind between the two countries as Japan had previously only sold fishing vessels to Vietnam.

The deal comes at a time when Vietnam has been at odds with China over territorial claims in the South China Sea. In a corresponding statement, JICA said the project would contribute to “the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific”, a term that has initially been coined by the United States. The development demonstrates Vietnam’s increasing alignment with the United States and its ally Japan in defense of its interests against China. [Japan Times]

JICA has already signed similar agreements for the construction of patrol ships and boats with the Philippine Coast Guard under the joint Japanese-Philippine Maritime Safety Capability Improvement Project (MSCIP) program. [Naval News]

Meanwhile, the Philippine navy chief has called for a diplomatic protest against the presence of two Chinese research ships in a disputed area surrounding the Reed Bank. The Reed Bank is an energy-rich area of the South China Sea that the Philippines claims within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). This claim was essentially confirmed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016. China, however, does not recognize the ruling. [South China Morning Post]

In a related development, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said after a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that matters relating to the South China Sea must be resolved peacefully based on universally recognized principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on The Law of The Sea (UNCLOS). However, he also emphasized that Malaysia should not be caught up in the geopolitics of superpowers, emphasizing the need to maintain good relations with all sides. [Malay Mail] [Benar News]

Malaysia submitted a note verbale to the United Nations on 29 July, rejecting China’s claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, with respect to the maritime areas of the South China Sea “encompassed by the relevant part of the ‘ninedash line’”. [United Nations]

11 August 2020

China-Japan relations: Tokyo ready to respond to Beijing’s possible fishing boat intrusion 

(dql) Sino-Japanese tensions are flaring up after Japan warned its military to be prepared for Chinese intrusions of its territorial waters around the disputed islands – Senkaku islands in Japanese, Diaoyu islands in Chinese – in the East China Sea. The warning comes in response to reports of Beijing announcing that its ban on Chinese fishing boats operating in the disputed waters will expire this Sunday. The announcement was reinforced by Beijing stressing that Japan has no right to demand the fishing boats stop their activities alluding to its own claims of sovereignty over these waters and islands. [Newsweek] [South China Morning Post]

In a show of force, Chinese coastguard vessels have been constantly entering the disputed waters over the past one and half year. Until July, Chinese government ships were present in the area for a record of 111 consecutive days before leaving. [AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4]

For insights into Japan’s legal and administrative efforts to strengthen protection of its territorial integrity against “China’s gray zone tactics” in the East China Sea in historical perspective, see James Kraska at [The Diplomat].

11 August 2020

Japan: Prime Minister Abe under pressure over risks of second Coronavirus wave

(dql) As Japan, so far praised for it successful control of the pandemic, faces surging numbers in Covid-19 infections, with an increase from 40.000 to 50.000 within the past week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is confronted with a record low approval rating of 30% while 61% of the population voice dissatisfaction with his cabinet’s pandemic handling. [Japan Times]

Abe, however, declared that there was no need for a declaration for a second state of emergency defying calls for such a move and trying to walk on a thin line between preventing the spread of the virus and preventing the country’s economy, which is officially already in recession, from getting worse. [Kyodo News] [The Guardian]

4 August 2020

Japan: Ruling party urges to restrict TikTok

(mp) Japanese lawmakers urged the government to propose restrictions of Chinese-developed smartphone applications such as TikTok in order to guarantee tighter protection of confidential information. This step is recognized as a measure to ensure further security collaboration with the US, which had brought up similar proposals. TikTok, having over 10 million users in Japan, has been under fire due to concerns over the collection of user data for the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party, respectively. TikTok stressed that they have never received such a data request from Beijing and would also not follow one. India previously had announced a ban on dozens of Chinese-developed apps.

In a related development, the Japanese ruling party announced plans to build up a security clearance program to protect information and vulnerable technology from foreign influence. Critics, however, warned Tokyo against distancing from China, which is Japan’s largest trade partner. [Nikkei Asian Review] [Reuters]

4 August 2020

Japan searching for alternatives to Aegis Ashore

(mp) Since the deployment of the US-made Aegis Ashore missile shield has been halted due to cost concerns, Japan is currently assessing three options on how to maintain its defense capability. These include a land-based radar system to detect incoming missiles, which would be shot down by ship-based interceptors, adding further Aegis-equipped vessels to the fleet, and building a sizeable offshore shield structure.

While all three systems have both advantages and disadvantages, the US stressed that it would continue close cooperation regardless of which method wins the bid. After considering factors such as effectiveness, staffing, and costs, Tokyo plans to set out a policy direction within September. [Nikkei Asian Review]

4 August 2020

US offers Japan help in Senkaku conflict with China

(mp) After tensions with China have worsened due to the conflict over the China-disputed Senkaku (Diaoyu) islands [AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4], Washington has announced its commitment to help Tokyo handling the continual and “unprecedented” incursions by Chinese coast guard vessels into Japan-administered territory in the East China Sea. While the US has been neutral on the issue of sovereignty of the disputed area and has not participated in the daily tensions, it at the same time declared that the disputed islands are covered by the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security and would, therefore, be defended against hostile aggression. [Nikkei Asian Review]

28 July 2020

Japan: Quad joint military exercise

(mp) The so-called “Quad” alliance of the United States, Japan, India, and Australia, unofficially founded 2007 to deal with trade and culture issues, conducted a military drill in the Indo-Pacific Ocean. At a time when all four countries´ relations with China deteriorate, the exercise presumably aims to grab China´s attention by showing allied sea power, and to mark an answer to Beijing’s recent expansion not only in the South China Sea but also after border clashes with India, a beginning trade war with Australia and the already heightening tensions with the US. The drill, which started on Sunday, included a US aircraft carrier, several warships, and air support. [Nikkei Asian Review]

28 July 2020

Japan: Chinese ships near Senkaku islands for one hundred days

(mp) On Wednesday, ships of the Chinese Coast Guard were spotted close to the Japan-administered Senkaku islands for the 100th day, marking the longest period since Japan put them under state control in 2012. According to the Japan Coast Guard, one of the four spotted vessels, weighing over 3,000 tons, carried a machine gun; some further attempted to track Japanese fishing boats operating in the area.

While Beijing claimed the islands as their own territory, called Diaoyu, Tokyo condemned China´s action as an “extremely serious” issue, conducted formal protest, and urged increasing the activity of patrol ships of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force to defend its territory. The China Coast Guard has command over about twice as many 1,000-tons-vessels as their Japanese counterpart.

The event comes at a time when the United States put pressure upon an increasingly confident China in the South China Sea, and the Japanese-American partnership gains strategic importance after the COVID-19 pandemic had put a power vacuum on the Asia Pacific region. [Kyodo] [Nikkei Asian Review]

21 July 2020

Japan: Heightened of territorial conflicts with China

(mp) Territorial conflicts between China and Japan in the East China Sea are aggravating after Chinese ships´ activities in the area have been increasing. In June, Chinese Coast Guard vessels intruded into Japanese waters for over 39 hours, which is the longest period after Tokyo gained state control over the islands in 2012.

Subsequently, a Chinese research ship operated in a Japan-claimed zone near the country´s southernmost point for several days, ignoring Tokyo´s appeals to cease activities. While survey ships are required to seek permission before entering a foreign zone, the Chinese government declared Oktinotori was not an island but rocks; therefore, Japan´s claim lacked a legal basis and the research activities were in line with international law.

In early July, China protested about the “trespassing” of Japanese fishing boats into their territorial waters near to the disputed Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, which China calls Diaoyu. Japan immediately rejected the Chinese complaint, which presumably intended to strengthen China´s sovereignty claims. Just last month, the city assembly of Ishigaki had passed a resolution to change a southern area´s name to “Tonoshiro Senkaku,” aiming to strengthen Japan´s claim over the island. This again was followed by Beijing assigning Chinese names to nearby seabed zones. [Nikkei Asian Review] [Kyodo News 1]

Moreover, Japan announced to instantly send out fighter jets against all Chinese aircraft taking off from their base in Fujian province, not only those which intrude Japan´s air space. This measure is necessary as Beijing moved its airbase, which is now located only 380 kilometers away from the disputed Senkaku islands. In 2019, Japan intercepted Chinese military aircraft for 675 times. [Kyodo News 2]

14 July 2020

Japan: Strengthening bonds with Australia

(mp) Last Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Abe and his Australian counterpart Morrison held a virtual summit on the question of how to intensify their countries´ security relationship to come up with a joint answer towards China´s increasing activities in the Indo-Pacific. Both leaders expressed their support for the so-called “Quad,” a security and defense alliance by the United States, Australia, Japan, and India, officially founded last year, aiming to strengthen ties against rising Chinese military activities. Further, the Japanese and Australian space agencies entered into a bilateral research agreement. Both leaders additionally called for granting Taiwan observer status at the World Health Assembly as well as for the peaceful solution of disputes over claims in the South China Sea. [Sydney Morning Herald]

Regarding the implementation of the new security law for Hong Kong, both leaders expressed concerns over the freedom of Hong Kong´s citizens. Abe further called the law a “step back” for the “one country, two systems”-framework. [Nikkei Asian Review 1]

In a related latest development, Japan´s yearly report on defense accused China of making use of the coronavirus outbreak to implement changes to the territorial status quo in the South China Sea and the East China Sea – accusations that are also shared by the US. Moreover, the report criticizes the provision of medical pandemic help by Beijing as propaganda measures to increase China´s reputation amongst further countries of strategic weight. [Nikkei Asian Review 2]

7 July 2020

Japan: Strengthening intelligence sharing with the United Kingdom, Australia, and India

(mp) In the light of China´s steady maneuvers in critical territories such as the East and the South China Sea, Japan expands its collaboration with intelligence services of partners like the United Kingdom, Australia, and India. The corporations aim to guarantee and encourage secure data exchange between the allies by setting up severe penalties for leaking classified secrets of military relevance. The measures will, for instance, facilitate the sharing of Chinese troop movements and hostile activities.

Japan further intends to involve the United Kingdom in future purchases of next-generation fighter jets. [Nikkei Asian Review]




7 July 2020

Japan: Yuriko Koike re-elected governor of Tokyo

(mp) Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike on Sunday won a second four-year term leading Japan´s capital. Koike, whose victory was widely expected, received almost 60 percent of the votes, far outpacing her rivals while runner-up Kenji Utsunomiya reached 13,8 percent. Voter turnout was 55 percent, which is a decrease of 4.7 percentage points compared to 2016.

The conservative 67-year-old Koike, who is Tokyo´s first female leader based her campaign on the promise to act resolutely in case of a second wave of coronavirus cases since the number of patients has started rising during previous days. On Monday, she announced plans to set up a disease control center to cope with the virus. She, however, does not only face challenges by the coronavirus crisis but also challenges posed by hosting the Olympic Games that have been postponed to summer 2021 [Mainichi] [Nikkei Asian Review]




7 July 2020

Japan: Ruling party urges government to cancel Xi´s state visit

(mp) In response to the new security law which Beijing imposed over Hong Kong, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan published a resolution urging the government to cancel Chinese President Xi Jinping´s upcoming state visit. The resolution criticizes the implementation of the security bill and subsequent mass arrests against protesters and further called Japan to assist Hong Kong residents wishing to leave by providing necessary visas.

China instantly responded to the resolution, refusing foreign interference in internal affairs and claiming “anti-Chinese performances” had “no meaning” to China. [Mainichi Japan]




7 July 2020

Japan asks the US to hand over men accused of helping Ghosn flee

(mp) Japan has officially requested the United States to extradite a former soldier and his son, who are accused of assisting former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn to flee from the judiciary. Both men have been arrested in the US in May at Japan´s request. They are suspected of having helped Ghosn, who had been charged with engaging in financial crimes, to fly to Lebanon in a spectacular escape while hiding in a box declared to contain musical instruments. The men´s lawyers, however, claimed that extradition for the noted charges was inadmissible under the countries´ bilateral treaty. [BBC]




30 June 2020

Japan: Trade negotiations with the UK

(mp) Japan and the United Kingdom have entered into negotiations over a trade deal, urging its completion within only weeks since their current agreement will lose its effect after Brexit by the end of 2020. Both countries also seek to include enhancement of digital regulations such as an agreement over the non-disclosure of software source codes to promote free data handling. Focus points will further include cars and agricultural products. [Japan Times]



30 June 2020

Japan considers preemptive strike as an alternative to Aegis Ashore

(mp) After the Aegis Ashore missile shield´s deployment has been halted permanently [AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3], Tokyo keeps looking into alternatives. Besides installing the missile defense shield on warships and floating platforms, as reported last week [AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4], preemptive strikes could be another inexpensive option to defend against persistent threats from China and North Korea. The attacking of hostile launch facilities in advance is expected to massively reduce costs compared to the less reliable conventional way of shooting down missiles in flight. Despite concerns over the legitimacy of preemptive strikes within the international legal framework, such attacks are widely understood to be justified under Article 52 of the United Nation´s charter.

The necessity of up-to-date defense capacities was also brought up by Japanese defense minister who warned of China´s military intentions in the South China Sea, after the spotting of a submarine near Japanese territory, which later has been identified as Chinese. [Nikkei Asian Review 1] [Nikkei Asian Review 2]

The Japanese army will launch an electronic warfare unit as a response to the increasing tension over the Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by both Japan and China. The new unit, which consists of 80 soldiers, will be in charge of jamming hostile communication signals ahead of a potential attack. Since the occupation of an island requires sophisticated communications between troops, the disruption of both human communication and missile signals is deemed necessary for successful self-defense. [Nikkei Asian Review]

Japan´s Defense Ministry plans to establish a new post for issues associated with the ASEAN and the Pacific islands to bolster security in the region after an increased quantity of joint maneuvers with ASEAN countries over the past years. By the new position, Tokyo hopes to oppose Chinas “attempts to change the status quo,” as stated by Defense Minister Taro Kono. [Japan Times]



30 June 2020

Japan: Ruling party uses snap election rumors as party-internal disciplining measure

(mp) Members of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) rumored the possibility that their head, Prime Minister Abe, might dissolve the House of Representatives for a snap election within this year. This happens at a time when Abe receives sharp criticism over problems in domestic politics as well as over his management of the coronavirus crisis.

However, precisely because the country is facing enormous challenges like restoring its economy after the pandemic, experts raised doubts over the likelihood of new elections and consider the rumors as a measure to tighten party-internal discipline and unity in times of public pressure. [Nippon]



30 June 2020

Japan opposes South Korea joining the G7

(mp) A high-ranking Japanese government official has raised his objection towards the United States against Korea joining the G7 group after US President Donald Trump had proposed to expand the group by permanently inviting Korea, Australia, India, and Russia to the annual meeting since the current seven countries would not represent the world´s real power structure, according to Trump.

Tokyo, which is the only Asian member of the G7, criticized that South Korea´s political attitude towards China and North Korea differed from that of the other member countries. Japan´s opposition against Trump´s initiative will most likely further intensify tensions between Tokyo and Seoul, while these are already heightened amid disputes over wartime history. [Kyodo]




23 June 2020

Japan: Ex justice minister arrested in vote-buying case

(mp) Last week, prosecutors arrested the former justice minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his wife, who had successfully run for an upper house seat last July. Katsuyuki is accused of vote buying in the 2019 Upper House election and having handed 25 million yen (US$ 234,000) to local politicians in his wife´s district, breaching the campaign financing law. He had resigned from office after only two months in October due to investigations on this matter. Katsuyuki and his wife both declined the allegations.

The case has the potential to become a major blow for Prime Minister Abe as Katsuyuki is a one-time foreign policy adviser close to Abe and as rumors are circulating that the funding of Anri Kawai’s campaign was approved by Abe.

The scandal comes at a time when Abe, who is the longest-serving leader of Japan, has been struggling with critics over the government´s slow reaction to the financial impact from the coronavirus crisis and delayed aids for affected citizens. [Nikkei Asian Review] [Reuters]





23 June 2020

Japan: Government beefs up cyber security

(mp) In a move to tackle the country’s Japan´s readiness in the area of military cyber security, Japan’s Defense Ministry announced to further expand its Unit for Cyber Defense to almost 300 cyber security experts, an increase of 30% compared with the current personnel. Japan, at this time, considers hiring outside-experts, establishing school courses on cyber security, and promoting cyber education for teenagers to catch up on its enemies.

Reflecting Japan’s huge backlog against major powers, China holds around 100,000 cyber warriors whose task is stealing foreign classified information. [Nikkei Asian Review]




23 June 2020

Japan: Government drops bill to delay retirement of civil servants

(mp) Bowing to public criticism, Japan´s government scrapped a controversial provision, which was part of a new bill delaying the retirement of prosecutors and other civil servants to the age of 65. The provision empowered the government to keep selected high-ranking public prosecutors for a further term of up to three years, up to the Cabinet´s discretion.

Observers therein saw a threat to the independence of the judicial branch. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga argued they were looking for servants with abundant knowledge and experience and that an aging society needed a likewise rising retirement age.

The government now considers resubmitting a revised bill, retaining the new retirement age of 65 but lacking the passage for deferring prosecutors´ retirement at the Cabinet´s discretion. The opposition argued that the change had been meant to justify the government´s move in January to keep the former high-ranked prosecutor Hiromu Kurokawa, who resigned after a breach of social distancing rules, in position beyond his age of 63. [Kyodo] [AiR No. 21, May/2020, 4]




23 June 2020

Japan-China relations: Chinese ships spotted in Japanese governed territory

(mp) Chinese ships had been spotted in Japanese governed territory disputed by China. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga referred to China´s unusual activity in the area as “extremely serious” and announced to monitor the situation further. China follows an area denial strategy seeking to keep U.S. warships out of the South China Sea in case of the outbreak of conflicts, pushing the U.S. policy of free passage to its limit. Chinas provocations also cast a poor light upon Japan´s decision to halt the Aegis Ashore missile defense system. [Nikkei Asian Review]



23 June 2020

Japan: Looking for Aegis Ashore alternative 

(mp) After the Japanese government announced to halt the deployment of the U.S.-made land-based missile defense system “Aegis Ashore” last week [AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3], the search for effective alternatives continues. Concepts include the installation aboard warships as well as the construction of a floating structure to be used as an offshore base. A concrete decision is projected to be made this summer.

Japan´s decision to cease the deployment of the system is likely to undermine the military´s capability of setting bounds to the threats from North Korea and is expected to damage the partnership with its closest ally the United States, which has previously urged Japan to increase its share of military expenses. A senior Japanese Defense Ministry official called the suspension a “wrong message to China and Russia.” The system, which was designed to be a significant part of Japan´s air defense, has been scrapped due to rising costs and technical issues. [Japan Times] [Nikkei Asian Review]



16 June 2020

Japan: Tokyo governor Koike runs for re-election

(mp) Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike announced on Friday to run for a second term in the gubernatorial election, which will take place on 5 July. Tokyo’s first female governor has been widely respected for her rational approach during the Covid-19 crisis. In case of re-election, she announced to focus on the fight against a potential second wave of the virus. The winner of the upcoming election will also preside over Tokyo during the Olympic Games, which have been postponed to summer 2021. Koike, who is expected to be re-elected, will face challenges from 73-year-old lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya, Taisuke Ono, who is backed by the Japan Innovation Party, and former actor Taro Yamamoto, who leads the anti-establishment party Rewa Shinsengumi, founded in 2019. [Nikkei Asian Review] [Japan Times]



16 June 2020

Japan: Lower house approves 297 billion USD extra budget

(mp) On Friday, the Japanese parliament enacted a second extra budget of in total 297 billion USD for 2020 to support fiscal measures against the coronavirus crisis. The budget aims to help small businesses suffering from economic loss by providing subsidies and to support medical staff who dealt with infected patients offering additional payments. The supplementary package comes into effect only six weeks after the first extra budget had been approved in April and will be financed entirely by government bonds. While Japan’s fiscal health already is the worst amongst major economies, public debt is expected to rise to 250 % of the GDP. [Nikkei Asian Review] [Bangkok Post]



16 June 2020

Taiwan-Japan relations: Fishermen protection vowed amid Japanese renaming effort

(ef) Amid the Japanese effort to rename the disputed Diaoyutai Islands [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2] and in response to the ensuing concerns of Taiwanese fishermen over their fishing rights in the surrounding waters the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has vowed to protect those rights and reaffirmed that it expressed serious concerns to Japan over the renaming plans. [Focus Taiwan]



16 June 2020

South Korea says Japanese exhibit “distorts” historical facts

(yo) South Korea’s Foreign Ministry expressed anger over Japan’s exhibition at the Industrial Heritage Information Center for omitting information on Korean wartime laborers. Anger was incited over one of the 23 major industrial sites built in the 19th and 20th century that have received UNESCO endorsement, called the “Battleship” Island. The Island was a notorious site and the ministry accused Japan of concealing the forced labor that happened under dehumanizing conditions on the island. [United Press International]

Korea had originally withdrawn complaints in 2015 when Japan agreed to provide appropriate information about the exploitation and work conditions. While Japan presents accounts and testimonies claiming that there had been no discriminatory treatment of Korean workers, the Foreign Ministry criticizes Japan for denying the reality of colonial activities. [Japan Times




16 June 2020

Japan: Suspension of Aegis missile defense shield

(mp) Japan has halted the deployment of its land-based high-performance missile defense system, called Aegis Ashore project, due to rising costs and technical issues. The US-built systems were planned to be installed in Akita Prefecture in the east and Yamaguchi Prefecture in the west of Japan and were designed to defend Japan from North Korean threats.

Since the 2.15 billion USD project has been halted, Japan will have to continue to counter missile threats with Aegis-equipped navy ships. [Japan Times]




16 June 2020

Japan advocates G-7 statement on Hong Kong

(mp) Amid heightened tensions between China and the USA and the UK over Beijing’s push to tighten its grip on Hong Kong, Japan announced it wants to take the lead in issuing a statement on the controversial Hong Kong national security law, based on the “one country, two systems” principle. After declining participation in a previous declaration of four western nations, Japan instead plans to use the G-7 platform to express its worries about the recent development of the former British crown colony’s decreasing independence. Prime Minister Abe told the parliament that he was “deeply concerned about the Hong Kong situation.” [Nikkei Asian Review 1]

As part of this development, Prime Minister Abe further suggested offering refuge to qualified Hong Kong residents employed in the financial sector as a component of Tokyo’s strategy to develop into an international business center. [Nikkei Asian Review 2]




9 June 2020

Japan: Revision of copyright control law

(mp) The Japanese parliament passed a new copyright control law which aims at banning illegal downloads of manga, magazines, and academic texts. While videos and music had been protected already, the law fills a gap in the existing protection of intellectual property. Previously, the rising success of copyright-breaching websites had led to an estimated economic loss of more than 2.75 billion USD. Further, so-called “leech websites,” which enable users to perform illegal file sharing, are also targeted by the legislation. Nevertheless, a list of exemptions from punishment was published, including derivative work, fair use, and petty breach cases. [Kyodo] 




9 June 2020

Japan: Record high extra budget for Covid-19 measures

(dql) The Japanese government on Monday submitted to parliament a draft second extra budget for fiscal 2020 with a record high totaling 291 billion USD to carry out additional measures to boost the country’s response to coronavirus pandemic. Based on this supplementary budget, the government plans to roll out an almost 1.1 trillion USD package of programs focusing on support for small firms which are struggling to cope with the fallout of the pandemic as well as on strengthening the country’s health system, in particular the medical staff at the forefront of the battle against the virus. The proposal is expected to be approved by both chambers of the Diet this week. [Mainichi]



9 June 2020

Taiwan-Japan relations: Taiwan reiterates sovereignty over Diaoyutai Islands

(ef) Following a Japanese municipality’s announcement to hold votes on changing the name of the Diaoyutai Islands, the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated that the Diaoyutai Islands were “undoubtedly inherent parts of the Republic of China,” adding that any Japanese unilateral action could harm regional security and stability; thus, restraint should be exercised. [Focus Taiwan]

The Diaoyutai Islands are also known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands. They are uninhabited islands in the East China Sea and claimed by China, Taiwan, and Japan, respectively.



9 June 2020

China-Japan relations: Visit of Xi Jinping unlikely to take place in 2020

(mp) Amid heightened tensions between the United States and China, the visit of China’s leader Xi Jinping to Japan is hanging in the balance. Initially planned to be held in spring, the meeting was postponed due to the coronavirus crisis.

However, after China announced to impose its controversial security bill over Hong Kong, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declared to reconsider Xi’s visit. Hong Kong democracy activists had urged the Japanese government to “carefully consider” the invitation of Xi. While China hopes to utilize the trip to Japan to impress the world with its success in overcoming the coronavirus outbreak, Tokyo is diplomatically troubled between both superpowers China and the United States. Japan faces pressure not to thwart its key security ally while also being aware of its own economic dependence on China. [Nikkei] [Japan Times]

This fear of friction was expressed when Japan rejected to join the United States, Britain, and other countries in condemning the imposition of the mentioned Hong Kong security law, leading to harsh critics from involved countries. Later, Abe clarified that he was “deeply concerned” about the latest developments in Hong Kong. He stressed the outstanding importance of Hong Kong as a partner and defended Japan’s ‘independent’ position by stressing the hope for a joint statement at the G7 meeting in September. [Kyodo] [Reuters]



2 June 2020

South Korea reopens WTO complaint against Japan’s trade curbs

(dql) South Korea announced that it will reopen a complaint filed with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over Japan’s tightened controls on technology exports to its companies.

The move comes months after Seoul had halted its WTO action in November to pave the way for talks to settle disputes over Japan’s restrictions on exports to South Korea viewed by South Korea as Japan’s retaliatory measures against South Korean court rulings that ordered Japanese companies to offer reparations to aging South Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s rule over the Korean peninsula. So far, the talks, however, have not yielded any progress. [The Diplomat]



2 June 2020

Japan: Ruling and opposition parties 

(dql) Latest data of Japan’s immigration authorities revealed that the country’s new visa system, introduced in April last year in a bid to bring in more foreign workers to tackle the serious labor shortage, failed to reach the expected results. As of March, a total of only 3,987 foreign workers with the new visa were registered, compared to expected 47,550. [Kyodo]



2 June 2020

Japan: End of state of emergency

(dql) Last week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ended the state of emergency in Japan after lifting  the remaining state of emergency in Hokkaido as well as Tokyo and its three surrounding prefectures. The decision was based on positive coronavirus-related developments in the past weeks including improved hospital capacity, an easing inflow of hospitalized patients, and a downward trend of new infections below 0.5% per 100,000 people nationwide. [The Diplomat]

In a related development, Abe’s cabinet approved a stimulus package worth 1.1 trillion USD.  The set of measures aimed to keep Covid-19 hidden businesses and households afloat include financing help for struggling companies, subsidies to help firms pay rent and for health care assistance and support for local economies. [Bloomberg]



26 May 2020

Japan-Russia relations: Moscow proposes shelving issue of legal jurisdiction over joint economic activities

(dql) In response to Japan’s renewed claim to ownership of a group of Russian-held islands off Hokkaido [No. 20, May/2020, 3], Russia dismissed Tokyo’s as running counter to the goal of improving relations with Russia and suggested to shelve the stalemated issue of legal jurisdiction over joint economic activities with Japan on disputed islands. 

Moscow’s proposal can be seen as a compromise in talks on promotion of joint activities as a confidence-building effort toward resolving the territorial spat. [TASS] [Kyodo News]



26 May 2020

Japan calls Taiwan “extreme important partner”

(dql) Amid thawing Sino-Japanese relations, Japan in its annual foreign policy report designated Taiwan as “extreme important partner”, elevating the status as “crucial partner and an important friend” in the previous year. The report also stresses Japan’s support of Taiwan participation in the World Health Organization against resistance from China. 

Taiwan’s rise in status reflects a continued improvement of the relations between Tokyo and Taipei over the past years. Besides close economic ties, Taiwan plays an important strategic role for Japan as a bulwark against Chinese maritime ambitions. [Nikkei Asian Review]



26 May 2020

Japan: High-ranking prosecutor resigns over breach of Covid-19 rules

(dql) In a political blow to Prime Minister Abe, Hiromu Kurokawa, the chief of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office, resigned from his post after confirming reports about him playing mahjong for money while violating Covid-19 social distancing guidelines. 

Kurokawa, widely believed to be close to Abe, has been at the centre of an outcry over a government bill that raises the retirement age for prosecutors to 65 from 63 and allows the cabinet to defer the retirement age of senior prosecutors for an additional three years. Kurokawa was this year allowed to stay in his post although he reached the retirement age of 63, leading to speculations that the government’s reform was aimed to allow him to succeed Prosecutor General Nobuo Inada, who is expected to retire in July. [Mainichi] [Asahi]

Bowing to public pressure, the Abe administration decide to shelve the bill. [AiR No. 20, May/2020, 3]



19 May 2020

Japan: Abe shelves prosecutor reform bill

(dql) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suffered a political defeat as his cabinet announced to give up its plan to seek passage of a bill which extend the retirement age for prosecutors and the prosecutor general upon approval by the Cabinet. The announcement came after widespread massive criticism of the bill from the opposition and the public viewing the legislative effort as a politically motivated maneuver to strengthen the government’s power as well as a step paving the way for a politicization of the country’s judiciary system. [Japan Times[Mainichi]



19 May 2020

Japan: Tokyo makes claims on Russian- and South Korean-held disputed islands explicit again

(dql) Signaling a hardening stance of the Japanese side towards Russia, Japan’s Foreign Ministry has made an explicit claim to ownership of a group of Russian-held islands off Hokkaido in its Diplomatic Bluebook, the Ministry’s annual foreign policy report, released this Tuesday. The claim was not made in the report last year when a solution in the long-standing territorial dispute between Japan and Russia seemed possible. However, hopes were shattered in the course of a numbers of unsuccessful diplomatic efforts. [Japan Times]

Meanwhile, South Korea urged Japan to withdraw its territorial claims to Dokdo islets in the East Sea, also made in the Bluebook. The Dokdo islets are referred to in Japan as Takeshima islets and have been administered by Seoul since 1954. [Korea Herald]



12 May 2020

Japan: Protest against Chinese coast guard vessels chasing fishing boat in disputed waters

(dql) Japan lodged an official protest with China after Chinese vessels last week harassed a fishing boat in waters off what is known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands and in China as Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea and claimed by both countries. In response, patrol ships of the Japan Coast Guard scrambled to safeguard the fishing boat and order the Chinese vessels to leave. [Japan Times]

According to Japan’s 2019 defense white paper, “In the East China Sea and other waters, China is expanding and intensifying its military activities at sea and in the air,” which “represent a serious security concern.” [The Diplomat]

China responded to the protest by insisting that it has an “inherent right” to patrol the waters in the disputed area in the East China Sea, adding that the chased boat was “illegally operating…in China’s territorial waters.” [Politiko]



28 April 2020

Taiwan: Constitutional Court favors Japan’s lay judge model over Western jury system

(dql) Since 2017 legislative efforts have been underway to introduce citizens’ participation in the judiciary. 

Last week Taiwan’s Constitutional Court has presented in a document submitted to the parliament for further hearing its stance and reasons against the introduction of a jury system while expressing its preference for adopting Japan’s lay judge model under which lay judges and court judges jointly decide both the verdict and the sentencing. [Taipei Times]



21 April 2020

Japan: Abe sends offering to Yasekuni shrine

(dql) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, which commemorates those Japanese who died in the wars involving Japan and is seen by Asian neighbours as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism as the shrine lists also 1,068 convicted war criminals. [Mainichi]

In response to this move, South Korea expressed “deep disappointment and regret” while China called on Japan “to take concrete actions to win back trust from its Asian neighbors and the international community, and to face up to and deeply repent of its history of aggression.” [Korea Herald] [ECNS]



21 April 2020

Japan: Abe under pressure as COVID-19 cases surge despite nationwide state of emergency

(dql) Despite a nationwide state of emergency declared last week [BBC], confirmed cases of Covid-19 infections has risen to over 11,000, with hundreds detected daily, and a total of deaths at more than 270. [Kyodo News]

The government has come under pressure over these numbers and medical experts’ warning of a collapse of the country’s health system. Critics argue that the state of emergency lacks vigor as regional governments are allowed to urge people to stay inside, but without punitive measures or legal force, and as shops and restaurants are still allowed to open. [Channel News Asia] [Japan Times]

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abe has bowed to pressure from Komeito, the partner of his Liberal Democratic Party in the ruling coalition, to allocate more money to ease the impact of the coronavirus crisis. On Monday, his Cabinet approved a reworked supplementary fund expanding it by more than 80 billion dollars in order to offer cash handouts of 100.000 yen (approx. 900 USD) to every person in the country. The payments will start in May. [NHK]


7 April 2020

Japan: State of emergency declared over Covid-19

(dql) In response to a worrying increase of coronavirus infections in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this Tuesday declared a monthlong state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and five other prefectures providing authorities legal backing to request the population to stay at home, with governors allowed to order the closure of schools, cinemas, department stores and other places which brings together large crowds. Due to legal limits, the declaration does not include hard lockdowns like those imposed in China or Italy and also no punishment for non-compliance.  

In an earlier development of the day, the government approved a stimulus package of nearly 1 trillion USD to ease the economic impact of Covid-19 in Japan. [Mainichi] [Aljazeera]


31 March 2020

Japan-Thailand relations: Local Currency Swap Arrangement signed

(dql) In a move to boost the financial stability of both countries, Thailand’s and Japan’s central bank signed a bilateral local currency swap arrangement (BSA) effective as of 31 March 2020 for a period of three years. The BSA allows for the exchange of local currencies between the two central banks of up to 240 billion Baht or 800 billion Yen (appr. 7.4 billion USD), enabling them to provide baht or yen liquidity to eligible financial institutions in support of their cross-border operations. [Market Screener]


24 March 2020

China, Japan and South Korea ready to cooperate on Covid-19 

(ef) Last week, the Foreign Ministers of China, Japan and South Korea discussed cooperation on the coronavirus pandemic with a focus laid on the question of infected people arriving in their countries from overseas. [Reuters]

24 March 2020

Bangladesh: First deep-water port project largely financed by Japan approved by government

(jk) The government in Dhaka approved last week the construction of the country’s first deep sea port in Matarbari which is near Cox’s Bazar. The port will likely cost more than US$2 billion and is largely funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The port is likely to be completed by December 2026.[BDNews]

As transpired in January, the government has seemingly dropped the idea of developing a deep sea port with Chinese money in location close by and seems now to focus on the project negotiated with JICA. [Dhaka Tribune] The Chinese side, as reported in January,  responded with a number of MoUs signed with Myanmar, including the Kyaukphyu special economic zone (SEZ) and deep-sea port in Rakhine State providing alternative access to the Bay of Bengal. [Asia in Review, No. 3, January/2020, 3]

17 March 2020

South China Sea: US Carrier Visit to Vietnam; Japan-Vietnam security ties boosted

(hg) The USS Theodore Roosevelt – the lead ship of the ten Nimitz class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers – made its second visit to Vietnam. The visit marks 25 years of diplomatic relations and growing security ties. It occurs amid again heightening tensions between China and the US in the South China Sea after the latter has just accused a Chinese ship of firing a laser at a U.S. surveillance aircraft flying over the Philippine Sea. 

Meanwhile, Japan and Vietnam agreed to boost their security cooperation after the chief of staff of Japan’s defense forces met with his Vietnamese counterpart in Hanoi. [The Diplomat]

17 March 2020

Japan set to develop supersonic weapons

(dql) Japan has announced to develop standoff hypersonic weapons, with the aim to deploy the Hypersonic Cruise Missile and the Hyper Velocity Gliding Projectile between 2024 and 2028. They are expected to enter service in the early 2030s. [Defense News]

17 March 2020

Japan: Parliament affirms Abe’s power to declare state of emergency over Covid-19

(dql) Japan’s lawmakers approved legislation providing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with the authority to declare a state of emergency in case of an escalation of Covid-19 and to give authorities more room for maneuver to curb the spread of the virus, including – among others – ordering residents to stay indoors as well as demand school closures and event cancelations. [Nikkei Asian Review

Commenting on the new legislation, Abe announced, that the declaration of the state of emergency was, however, not imminent. [Japan Times]

10 March 2020

Japan next fighter plane generation to be built by U.S. firms

(dql) Japan announced its decision in favor of U.S. firms and against British companies to build its next-generation fighter plane: a long-range fighter plane with stealth characteristics and usable for patrolling the country’s vast maritime sovereignty. The costs are expected to amount to tens of billions of USD while the deployment of the new jets is scheduled in the 2030s. [Nikkei Asian Review]

10 March 2020

Japan-South Korea relations: Tit-for-tat coronavirus curbs

(dql) Already strained relations between Japan and South Korea are set to further cooling down over the coronavirus epidemic. In response to Tokyo’s decision to impose new restrictions for South Korean visitors over coronavirus fears, including a voluntary self-quarantine upon arrival, Seoul announced a halt of a visa-free entry program for Japan and other countermeasures including the invalidation of already issued visas. [Japan Times][Yonhap]

10 March 2020

Japan: PM Abe set to gain power to declare state of emergency over Covid-19

(dql) Amid mounting criticism of Prime Minister Abe’s alleged too relaxed handling of the Covid-19 outbreak in Japan, the Cabinet today approved a bill that would allow Abe to declare a state of emergency under which prefectural governors could order residents to stay indoors and schools to close as well as events to be canceled. Local governments could also temporarily take over private land and facilities to provide medical care.

The bill is expected to pass the parliament this week. It is the third drastic measure of the Abe administration within weeks, following Abe’s request for nationwide closure of schools and cancellations of events as well as legislation on the release of 2.6 billion USD in emergency funds to subsidize companies and parents for missed work. [Japan Times] [Nikkei Asian Review]

Abe has come under pressure in the wake of more than 1200 coronavirus cases in Japan, with latest polls showing 43% of the respondents approving of Abe’s handling of the outbreak, versus 41% disapproving. [Reuters]

25 February 2020

Japan renews claims over islets controlled by South Korea

(dql) Tensions between Japan and South Korea have flared after Tokyo renewed claims to Seoul-controlled islets in the Sea of Japan calling them “an inherent territory” of Japan.

South Korea lodged a strong protest against the action. [Kyodo News] [Korea Times]

18 February 2020

Japan: Cabinet approves bill supporting firms to develop 5G technology

(dql) Japan’s cabinet approved a bill in support of companies which develop secure 5G mobile networks and drone technologies. The bill incentivizes companies developing such technologies with access to low-interest rate loans from government-affiliated financial institutions under the condition that their plans meets cyber security standards.

The move is widely seen as reflecting concerns among the country’s policymakers over the growing influence of China’s 5G technology. [Japan Times]

11 February 2020

Japan-South Korea relations: Tokyo’s second complaint against Seoul at the WTO within two weeks

(dql) Following a first a petition filed in January against South Korea with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over what it views as excessive subsidies to South Korea’s domestic shipbuilding industry, Japan on Monday launched a second complaint at the WTO in the same matter. [Reuters]

Japan’s move worsens the already strained relations between both countries which are embroiled in a political and economic dispute which originates from a spat on compensation payments for South Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s rule on the Korean peninsula from 1910-1945.

4 February 2020

Japan sues South Korea over shipbuilding subsidies  

(dql) Japan filed a petition against South Korea with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over what it views as excessive subsidies to South Korea’s domestic shipbuilding industry. Seoul dismissed the claims as groundless. [Japan Times]

Tokyo’s move adds to already heightened trade and political tensions over a dispute on compensation payments for South Korean victims of forced labour during the Japanese rule over the Korean peninsula 1910-1945. 

4 February 2020

Japan: Laws on the way to expand workforce in rapidly aging society

(dql) In an attempt to increase the country’s work force amid a rapid aging of society [AiR No. 53, December/2019, 5], Japan’s Cabinet approved bills which call on businesses to provide employees the opportunity to work until the age of 70 or even to scrap the retirement age. [Mainichi]

In a related development, the government released data according to which the number of foreign workers in Japan hit a record high in October 2019. With more than 1.6 million, the increase was up 13.6 percent from a year earlier. [Kyodo]

28 January 2020

Japan-Poland relations: Energy cooperation to be deepened

(dql) During last week’s summit between Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and his Japanese counter Shinzo Abe, both countries reached an agreement on deepening cooperation on hydrogen and nuclear power as well as coal power generation with lower greenhouse gas emissions. [Mainichi]

The agreement comes shortly after coal-reliant Poland, which produces around 80% of its power from coal and which was the only EU member state not to take part in the EU’s 2050 climate neutrality goal last year, earlier this month became the top beneficiary of the €100-billion EU climate fund with which the European Commission aims to assist coal-reliant regions to shift from fossil fuels to a greener economy and more sustainable energy mix. [Kafkadesk]

21 January 2020

Japan: Abe’s Middle East tour

(dql) In a move to secure support from Middle East countries for Japan’s decision not to join the International Maritime Security Construct (ISMC), the U.S.-led coalition to protect shipping in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, but to run its independent maritime initiative to safeguard commercial shipping in the region, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week visited Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman amid high tensions between the USA and Iran. 

Securing Abe a diplomatic success, all three countries expressed their support for Tokyo’s maritime policy in the region. [Nikkei Asia Review][Japan Times][Kyodo News]

For an account on the chances for Abe to be peacemaker in the Middle East due to his personal relationships with the main players in the region see [The Diplomat].

21 January 2020

Japan-India relations: Joint coast guards drill 

(dql) Signaling efforts to strengthen military cooperation between Japan and India, the coast guards of both countries last week took part in a joint anti-piracy exercise off the Chennai coast. It was the 18th exercise of this kind between the two nations and comes amid China’s expanding maritime presence in waters near India. [Japan Times]

14 January 2020

Japan rejects South Korea’s latest suggestion on solving forced labor dispute 

(dql) Tokyo has strongly rejected a latest suggestion made by Seoul to solve the countries’ dispute over compensation payments to South Korea victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule on the Korean peninsula.

Last week, South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it is endorsing a proposal of South Korean and Japanese lawyers to establish a consultative body, involving government officials, lawyers, representative of victims, scholars and business officials from the two countries, to support victims. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga dismissed the proposal, arguing that the forced labor issue has been resolved through the 1965 “Agreement Between Japan and the Republic of Korea Concerning the Settlement of Problems in Regard to Property and Claims and Economic Cooperation”. [Korea Herald]

7 January 2020

Japan and Vietnam vow to deepen cooperation

(dql) Taking aim at China, the foreign ministers of Japan and Vietnam at a meeting in Hanoi expressed their shared commitment to maintaining freedom of navigation and the rule of law in the South China Sea and agreed on close maritime security cooperation. They also agreed to work together to realize complete denuclearization of North Korea as well as to bring more countries into the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement. [Japan Times]

Vietnam holds the ASEAN chairmanship this year and is non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2020-2021.

7 January 2020

China-Japan relations: Tensions resurface over El Salvador port development project

(dql) Warming ties between China and Japan has seen a set-back when it was revealed last week that Tokyo pressured El Salvador to scrap plans to hand over operating rights of a port to a Chinese company by threatening to withdraw its funding of 102 million USD for development projects in the Central American country which switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China in 2018.

Tokyo’s move reportedly came after Washington expressed concerns about the Chinese firm’s interest in the project and signals the broader Sino-US tensions over China’s infrastructure expansion plans in the frame of its Belt and Road initiative. [South China Morning Post]


31 December 2019

Japan: Official demographic data reveal worsening population crisis

(dql) Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has revealed statistical data confirming the worsening of the country’s population crisis.  

The estimated number of babies born in the country in 2019 fell to 864,000, marking the lowest number since records began in 1899 and continuing the ‘below one million’ mark for the fourth consecutive year. Deaths in 2019 also hit a postwar record high of 1.376 million, resulting in a natural population decline of 512,000, the highest ever. [CNN][Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Japan, in Japanese]


31 December 2019

Japan rejects participation in US-led coalition patrol force in the Strait of Hormuz 

(dql) Amid heightened tensions between the USA and Iran, Japan’s government has announced that Japan will send a warship and patrol planes to protect Japanese ships in the Middle East as response to the volatility of the situation in the region, from which the country receives nearly 90% of its crude oil imports.

With this decision for an independent military unit operating in the areas of the region excluding the Strait of Hormuz, Japan, which is caught between its alliance with the USA and friendly ties with Iran, has refused to join a U.S.-led mission to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. Tokyo, however, would “cooperate” with the U.S.-led force and may provide it with intelligence. [Japan Times]


24 December 2019

China, Japan, South Korea agree to promote dialogue between USA and North Korea 

(dql) At a trilateral summit in Chengdu this week, China, Japan and South Korea have vowed to work together to help promote the North Korea-US dialogue to end North Korea’s nuclear program. South Korean President Moon Jae-in confirmed in a joint news conference that “the three countries, agreed to continue close communication and cooperation toward denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

The pledge comes amid the looming year-end deadline set by Pyongyang for Washington to change what it considers as a policy of hostility. The meeting is also a chance for Beijing to flex its diplomatic muscle and to present itself as weighty broker between Tokyo and Seoul whose ties have hit rock bottom in recent months over trade issues and disputes over compensation payment for South Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s rule over the Korean Peninsula 1910-1945. [Aljazeera][Reuters]


17 December 2019

Japan: New law under way to tighten screws on tech giants

(dql) Japan is set to tighten regulations to enhance the transparency of contracts involving technology giants and to prevent these technology giants from abusing their market power to gain unfair advantage over small businesses that operate on their platforms. According to a bill finalized by the government this Tuesday tech giants would be obliged to disclose the terms of contracts with customers and to report to the government about their operations. [Mainichi]


17 December 2019

Japan hits out at China on South China Sea

(dql) Just a few days ahead of his trip to Beijing to visit his Chinese counterpart, Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono, who is tipped to become successor of Prime Minister Abe, used surprisingly sharp rhetoric to openly attack China for its actions in the South China Sea and waters close to Japan. Speaking at the Doha conference on Monday, Kono blamed China for “unilateral and coercive attempts to alter the status quo based on its own assertions that are incompatible with the existing international order”, and demanded that aggressors “expanding their spheres of influence beyond their borders by force […] must be forced to pay cost.” [NHK]


10 December 2019

Japan: Economic stimulus package approved

(dql) Last week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet approved an economic stimulus package worth 239 billion USD, in a move to support the country’s slowing economy which faces the impacts of a weakening global economy and trade disputes, but also difficult domestic structural economic challenges such as an aging  population and a deep underemployment of female labor force. [Japan Times] [New York Times]

10 December 2019

Japan to buy East China Sea island to strengthen position against China

(dql) In a move to deepen Japanese-US military cooperation and to strengthen Japan’s defense capability in the East China Sea, Japan will purchase Mageshima Island for 146 million USD, an uninhabited outcrop 34 kilometers from the southernmost Japanese main island of Kyushu, according to an announcement of the government last week. 

The island will be used for US Navy and Marine Corps planes to simulate aircraft carrier landings, but might also be used as a permanent base for Japan’s Self Defense Forces to boost Japan’s position along the East China Sea where Japan and China are in dispute over islands.  [CNN]

Meanwhile, Japanese and US soldiers kicked off on Monday eight-day exercises to train combat cooperation involving the use of cyber attacks and electromagnetic weapons. [NHK]

3 December 2019

India-Japan 2+2 talks result in commitment for closer defense cooperation

(ls) India and Japan held their inaugural foreign and defense ministerial dialogue (2+2) in New Delhi over the weekend. The meeting focused on cooperation in building a free and open Indo-Pacific, a U.S.-led strategy developed to counter growing Chinese influence. The ministers also discussed deepening ties in the development of weapons and military hardware in the framework of an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement. [Straits Times]

In the occasion of the meeting, the two countries agreed to conduct their first joint fighter aircraft exercise in Japan, involving fighter jets from the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force and the Indian Air Force. The ministers also declared their intention to boost exchanges of information on the Indian Ocean by utilizing the Information Fusion Center for the Indian Ocean region, an entity India set up in December last year. [Japan Times]

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also met with the Japanese foreign and defence ministers, Toshimitsu Motegi and Taro Kono, and reiterated his government’s position on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), excluding the possibility of India’s joining the trade pact in its present form. Japan sees free trade as one of the pillars of the free and open Indo-Pacific strategy. After India’s rejection of RCEP, the Japanese government now emphasizes the need for an increase of connectivity in particular. [Times of India]


26 November 2019

Japan: First law providing penalties for hate speech on the way

(dql) In a first for Japan, the city of Kawasaki is set to introduce a law that would ban and punish discriminatory remarks against a person from a particular country or region in public spaces. The bill submitted to the city’s assembly this week calls for issuing warning and orders to violators and, in case of repeated violation, for the disclosure the names and addresses of repeated violators and a fine of up to nearly 4,600 USD. [Japan Today]

Japan’s Hate Speech Act of 2016 only condemns unjustly discriminatory language, but does not ban it and sets no penalty for it.


26 November 2019

India and Japan set to hold first “2+2” dialogue on defence and foreign relations, in addition to US and Australia 2+2s

(jk) India and Japan will hold the first 2+2 defence and foreign ministerial dialogue later this week. The newly established dialogue comes ahead of December’s summit between Prime Ministers Abe and Modi. [For Background: Foreign Policy]

December will also see foreign and defence secretaries of India and Australia meet for their 2+2 meetings, as well as the next instalment of the India-US version of the dialogue. In effect, India will meet the “Quad” bilaterally. [Times of India]


26 November 2019

South Korea sticks to intelligence pact with Japan

(dql) South Korea last Friday suspended its plan to withdraw from the intelligence-sharing pact, known as the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), with Japan of which it had earlier repeatedly said it would pull out amid heightened tensions between both countries over disputes over trade and compensation for forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule on the Korean peninsula. [BBC] [No. 47, November/2019, 3]

It remains, however, to be seen whether Seoul’s sticking to the pact will improve the countries’ relations given that only a few days later both sides took fresh swipes over their respective comments on South Korea’s decision to maintain the pact, a key symbol of security cooperation between the two and a trilateral partnership with the United States. [Mainichi]


5 November 2019

Human rights groups criticise East Asia Summit for not including human rights issues 

(jk) Rights groups criticised the state of human rights protection in Southeast Asia in particular over the weekend as they pointed out that the big summits, such as the East Asia Summit, do not include official discussions or statements on the deteriorating human rights situation in the region.

Human rights watch and other organisation expressed grave concern over the fact the Rohingya crisis, the war on drugs in the Philippines, the punishment of the LGBT community or enforced disappearances of activists were largely ignored throughout the summit. [Bangkok Post]

The Rohingya refugee crisis, although not in these terms, was mentioned at length in the final statement of the 35th ASEAN Summit however. ASEAN leaders noted their desire to

facilitate the safe, secure and dignified return displaced persons currently in Bangladesh to

Rakhine State from which they fled. [Chairman’s Statement Of The 35th ASEAN Summit] At the same time, they commended the work of AICHR, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights [for background on AICHR, see this article in CPG’s COM Online Magazine 4/2019]


5 November 2019

RCEP: 15 countries (RCEP minus India) declare they have agreed and will sign in 2020

(jk) During the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) summit in Bangkok on Monday, 15 countries (The ASEAN-ten, Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand) agreed to all 20 chapters of the RCEP and stated that they were “willing to sign” the deal in 2020.

All participating countries agreed to make efforts to resolve the remaining issues surrounding India’s concerns, so it too, can participate. [The Korea Herald]

Despite the positive spin on this development, it will remain a disappointment that RCEP could not be completed and signed by the end of this year as it was initially (if very optimistically) stated.

This disappointing if not entirely unexpected outcome was underscored by the US decision to downgrade US representation at the East Asia Summit, also held in Bangkok this past weekend. It was the first time since the EAS was established in 2005, that a country at the summit was represented by an official below the rank of foreign minister. Instead the US sent the new National Security Advisor, Robert O’Brien, as the Special Envoy to the upcoming EAS and the US-ASEAN Summit. [ISEAS Commentary]


5 November 2019

Japan-South Korea relations ready to improve?

(ls) South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Bangkok and resolved to enter into high-level talks on the deepening political and trade row between the two countries. South Korea has been urging Japan to lift trade measures it imposed after South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered Japanese firms to compensate wartime forced laborers. If Japan agrees, South Korea says it could revoke a decision to end the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) on the sharing of military intelligence. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, also South Korean Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo called for the country’s military information-sharing pact with Japan to be maintained, saying it contributed to South Korea’s national security. The United States has also been calling on Seoul not to withdraw from the agreement. [Japan Times]

Before, also Japanese and South Korean lawmakers agreed to work towards easing the tensions. [South China Morning Post]


5 November 2019

Japan: Justice Minister becomes second minister to resign in less than a week

(ls) Japanese Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai resigned on Thursday following media reports of election irregularities by his wife who is a ruling party lawmaker. Kawai said he was stepping down to avoid harm to public trust in the justice system. He became the second cabinet minister to step down in less than a week. [Reuters]

Before, Trade Minister Isshu Sugawara has already resigned over similar allegations. Both are alleged to have given gifts to voters. Some observers say that the development are signs of party hopefuls competing for the right to succeed Prime Minister Abe, alleging that the relevant leaks to a tabloid may have come from rival factions within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). [Straits Times]

The Japan Times sees nothing unique in the reshuffle and writes that it was a demonstration of Abe’s command over the LDP and that the Cabinet is filled with members of Abe’s inner circle and close allies. According to this reading of events, Kawai and Sugawara did not belong to this circle. [Japan Times]


22 October 2019

China-Japan relations: First joint maritime exercise in 11 years

(dql) In a first since 11 years, Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force conducted goodwill exercises with China’s navy involving the Japan’s destroyer Samidare and China’s guided-missile destroyer Taiyuan which tested radio communications and other coordination procedures. [NHK]


22 October 2019

Japan: Upper House election held in “state of unconstitutionality”

(dql) A court declared in a ruling last week election for the House of Councillors in July was held in a “state of unconstitutionality” citing vote-value disparities between urban and rural constituencies. Dismissing demands of plaintiffs, the court, however, did not decide to annul the election results in three districts where the vote value was in an “extremely unfair state” arguing that the parliament could not anticipate the state of unconstitutionality in the upper house election. [Japan News]

22 October 2019

Japan not to U.S. coalition to protect Middle East shipping

(dql) In a move to balance its relations with both the USA and Iran, last week, Japan announced that it will not be part of any U.S. coalition to protect merchant vessels in Middle Eastern waterways, but will instead send a separate force of ships and planes to guard ships supplying Japan from the key oil-producing region. [Reuters]

In latest development, Japan is reportedly considering sending two Self-Defense Force vessels to help protect Middle East waterways, with the Gulf of Oman, the northern part of the Arabian Sea and the eastern part of the Bab el-Mandeb strait, connecting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, as potential locations for the dispatch. [Japan Times]

8 October 2019

Japan: Free preschool education introduced

(dql) Last week, a law on free preschool education in Japan, enacted last December, came into effect, making attending Kindergartens and certified daycare centers free of charge for all households, irrespective of their income levels, for children aged between three and five. [NHK]

1 October 2019

Japan-South Korea relations: South Korean fighter jets conduct patrol flight over disputed islets

(dql) Amid strained relations between Japan and South Korea, South Korean fighter jets on Tuesday flew a patrol over disputed islets called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan, which are controlled by Seoul but claimed by both. The move risks to worsen the already frosty relations. [Reuters]

In the Defense White Paper 2019 of the Japanese Defense Ministry (see entry above), Japan upheld claims on the Dokdo islets. 

Japan and South Korea have been locked in a worsening diplomatic and trade dispute which originate from wartime history and disagreements over compensation for South Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of Korea. Reflecting the diplomatic standoff between

1 October 2019

Japan-European Union relations: Tokyo and Brussels sign infrastructure to counter China

(dql) In a move widely seen as a measure to counter China’s Belt and Road initiative, Japan and the European Union last week signed an infrastructure deal centering at coordinating their repesctive transport, energy and digital projects across the globe. The agreement, believed to be backed by a 65 billion guarantee fund, banks and private investors, calls for “transparent procurement practices, the ensuring of debt sustainability and the high standards of economic, fiscal, financial, social and environmental sustainability”. [Reuters] [EEAS]

1 October 2019

Japan: China listed as bigger threat than North Korea in latest Defense White Paper

(dql) In its Defense White Paper 2019, released last week, Japan’s Defense Ministry, called “Chinese military developments […] a serious security concern” referring to China’s “unilateral, coercive attempts to alter the status quo based on its own assertions that are incompatible with existing international order” while at the same time “strengthening capabilities in the domains of space, cyberspace and electromagnetic spectrum in addition to nuclear, missile, naval and air forces.” The White Paper places China ahead of North Korea, which is constitutes “a serious and imminent threat to the security of Japan,” while “Russia’s military activities are trending upward in the Far East” to which “[c]ontinued attention needs to be paid.”  [Ministry of Defense, Japan]

The assessment of China comes at a surprise in the light of improving ties between both countries.

24 September 2019

Japanese radar stations and MSDF crews failed to track recent North Korean missiles launches

(dql) In a blow to Japan’s missile defense network, Japan has failed to track the trajectory of some of North Korea’s new types of short-range missiles in a recent series of launches. Among them were missiles capable of reaching Japan which apparently escaped detection. [Defense World]

24 September 2019

Japan-South Korea relations: Seoul not invited to Japan naval review

(dql) Reflecting frosty relations between Japan and South Korea, Seoul has confirmed that it will not partake in Japan’s naval fleet review in October, as it had not received an invitation from Tokyo. The upcoming event is expected to involve US, British and Chinese warships. South Korea joined the previous naval review in 2015, attended by Australia, France, India and the U.S. [Japan Times]

Furthermore, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has no plans to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in during his trip to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly which started on Monday. 

24 September 2019

Japan: Opposition parties join forces to counter ruling coalition in parliament

(dql) The parliamentary groups of Japan’s two largest opposition parties, the Constitutional Democratic Party and the Democratic Party for the People, last week reached an agreement to work together in both Houses of the Diet to counter the ruling bloc of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito in the upcoming extra-ordinary Diet session, scheduled to convene next week. There Prime Minister Abe is believed to urge the opposition to engage in parliamentary discussion on the controversial reform of the constitution for which Abe needs support from the opposition in the Upper House to gain the two-thirds majority needed for the constitutional reform. [Mainichi]

17 September 2019

Japan: Abe seeks stability with cabinet reshuffle 

(dql) Prime Minister Abe’s cabinet reshuffle last week manifested his desire for political stability. While the reshuffle changed ministers in 17 of the 19 posts including in 13 first timers, most of these first timers are, however, either long-term trusted Abe loyalists or candidates of various factions of the LDP indicating Abe’s emphasis on stability as political basis for his push for constitutional revision which he was quick to reassure immediately after the announcement of the new cabinet. The only exception is the appointment of political rising star Shinjiro Koizumi, the son of the former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi and four-term MP, as Japan’s new Minister for Environment. [Eurasia Review] [Japan Times]

It was Abe’s fourth cabinet reshuffle since he has come to power in 2012 and believed to be his last one before his term as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will end in 2021, making the ministers of this cabinet potential heirs of Abe as party leader or Prime Minister. Koizumi, who is the fourth generation of the Koizumi family to hold a parliamentary seat, is widely tipped as a future prime minister following latest survey results on the question who should be prime minister which ranks him second after Abe, with 19.9% support compared with 20.1% for the incumbent prime minister. [The Guardian] [Today]

For a critical assessment of Abe’s calculation of Koizumi’s appointment “as more of a plus than a minus for his administration” see [East Asia Forum].

10 September 2019

South Korean-Japan relations: South Korean city parliaments enact ordinances labeling Japanese companies as ‘war crime companies’

(dql/jd) Deepening strained relations between South Korea and Japan over historical, territorial and trade disputes, the parliaments of the two largest South Korean cities have approved non-binding ordinances to label Japanese companies accused of employing forced labor or producing military supplies during World War II as ‘war crimes companies’. The measure targets 284 Japanese companies. Mayors and other officials of the cities are requested not to by products from them in the future. [Japan Today]

The measure is the latest round in the ongoing anti-Japan boycott drive in South Korea triggered by Tokyo’s move in August to remove Seoul from Japan’s trade white list which is seen by South Koreans as a retaliatory response to rulings of the South Korean Supreme Court ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation to victims of forced labor during the Japanese rule over the Korean peninsula. [Strait Times] 

10 September 2019

Japan-Russia relations: Deadlock over territorial dispute continues

(dql) Japan and Russia remain deadlocked over their territorial dispute over four Japanese-claimed, Russian-held islands off Hokkaido as a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin last week on the sidelines of a regional economic forum in Vladivostok ended without yielding any substantial results. Furthermore, the Russian President cited Japan’s security alliance with the United States as an obstacle to a peace treaty between both countries. [Reuters]

3 September 2019

Japan urges Iran to abide by nuclear deal

(jd) During a meeting last week, Japan’s Foreign Minister has urged his Iranian counterpart to abide by the 2015 nuclear deal. Japan and Iran have agreed to maintain close communication to ease tensions in US-Iran relations which threaten to increase tensions between Tokyo and Tehran which historically have had friendly ties. US President Trump’s re-imposing of sanctions has led to a domino effect of tit-for-tat actions that resultantly increased tensions between the countries and has led to a US-led naval mission in the Gulf. [Japan Today]

3 September 2019

South Korea and Japan relations further worsening

(jd) Amidst ongoing strained relationships with Japan, South Korean lawmakers visited a disputed island on Saturday. Known to South Korea as Dokdo, the island is also claimed by Japan, where it is known as Takeshima. The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the visit “extremely regrettable.” [New York Times]

Meanwhile, as expected, Japan has officially removed South Korea from the trade whitelist last week, while Seoul confirmed this weekend that the South Korean government is on track toward excluding Japan from its export control whitelist this month. [Japan Times] [Asia News Network]

Date of AiR edition

News summary

Web links

16 July 2019

Japan-Russia relations: Moscow rejects territorial talks

(dql) According to diplomatic sources, Russia has rejected beginning talks with Japan on the return of two disputed islands despite an agreement between Prime Minister Abe and President Putin in November last year to intensify talks on a peace treaty based on a key 1956 joint declaration, which states that Moscow will handover two of the four disputed islands after the conclusion of a peace treaty. It is believed that Moscow is fearing that a return of the two islands to Tokyo at this time would further worsen the currently falling approval rate for President Vladimir Putin in Russia. [Japan Times]

The rejection of territorial talks is a culmination of a string of failed diplomatic efforts of both sides to bridge their differences over the disputed territories earlier this year and further dims the prospects for a peace treaty. [AiR 3/5/2019]

16 July 2019

Japan’s Upper House election: Super-majority for constitutional revision likely

(jd) In the Upper House election this Sunday, Prime Minister Abe seeks to receive a mandate for his long-standing political goal, the revision of the constitution by amending Article 9 to “enshrine” the role of the Self-Defense Forces for which a two-thirds majority vote in both Diet chambers is necessary. According to latest polls the ruling leading coalition out of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito is set to win 63 seats, the simple majority of the contested 124 seats (out of a total of 245 seats). Together with other smaller parties, which support the constitutional revision, Abe would retain the required two-thirds majority of 85 vote. [Nikkei]

9 July 2019

Myanmar-Japan relations: economic zone re-imagined as export hub to India

(hg) Japan, in competition with China, works on an economic zone in southern Myanmar to create an export base to markets as India. This Dawei special economic zone shall be developed jointly by Japan, Myanmar and Thailand based on logistics and port facilities to be ready by 2030. [Nikkei Asian Review]

9 July 2019

Japan urges Iran to abide by the nuclear agreement 

(jyk) Japan urged Iran in a statement to abide by the nuclear agreement and refrain from activities of undue uranium enrichment, after Tehran revealed it had exceeded the 3.67% cap of its low-enrichment of uranium as agreed on in the 2015 nuclear deal. Analysts observed Iran’s provoking statement was a distress call for economic relief amid the crippling sanctions imposed by the US. [Mainichi]

Prime Minister Abe visited Tehran and met with the Iranian leaders last month and tried to broker a denuclearization deal with US as a mediator without avail. [AiR 3/6/2019]

9 July 2019

Japan-South Korea relations: Japan reviews removing South Korea from “white list”

(jyk) The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry reviews whether to remove Korea from its white list of countries that enjoy minimum regulations in export procedures. The move is widely seen as a retaliatory move Tokyo’s against Seoul which it accuses of inaction against South Korea’s Supreme Court rulings of last year ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation to South Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.

Seoul announced to file a complaint to the WTO, while the Foreign Ministry convened a government-civilian strategy meeting with economists and business leaders to discuss possible countermeasures. Meanwhile, leaders of Korean conglomerates, such as Samsung and SK, were flying for a meeting with Japanese industry officials to discuss the impending export curbs. [JoongAng Daily 1] [JoongAng Daily 2] [Korea Times] [Nikkei]

9 July 2019

Japan-USA relations: Trump calls for change of security treaty

(dql) Causing irritation with the Japanese government, US President Trump called for changes to the US-Japanese security treaty of 1951/1960 at the G20 Summit in Osaka. While he confirmed not to think about a withdrawal from the treaty, he described as “unfair agreement” as “if somebody attacks Japan, we go after them and we are in a battle” while “[i]f somebody should attack the United States, they don’t have to do that.” [Factcheck]

Analysts point out that Trump’s call for the treaty revision could complicate Abe’s push to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution as it could encourage Japanese hawks to assert their call for a more robust Japanese military in the face of China’s rise. [Reuters] 

Ahead of the Upper House election Trumps remarks might also damage the Abe administration as the Prime Minister has been boasting that the military alliance between Tokyo and Washington has never been stronger. [Japan Times]

9 July 2019

Japan: Official campaigning for Upper House election kicked off

(dql) Last week, official campaigning for the Upper House election, scheduled for July 21, kicked off. The election is widely seen as a make-or-break vote for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s (LDP) career-long efforts to revise the country’s Constitution with regard to the legal status of Japans military, the Self-Defense Forces (SDF). Opposition parties reject the move fearing an expansion of the SDF’s missions. The constitutional reform would require that the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and likeminded forces retain their current two-thirds supermajority necessary to launch a national referendum to enable the reform. [Japan Times] 

2 July 2019

Japan slaps sanctions on its tech exports to South Korea

(jyk) Underscoring currently frosty relations between Japan and South Korea over the drawn-out issue of compensation of South Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of Korean peninsula  [AiR 4/6/2019], the Japanese government announced its plan to restrict Japanese exports of semiconductor manufacturing materials used in smartphone displays and chips to South Korea.

The move includes tighter export controls as well as removing South Korea from a “white list” of countries that face minimum restrictions on transfers of technology with national security implications. Removal from the “white list” implies all South Korea-bound exports of advanced technologies and electronic parts that have the potential for military use will require Japanese government’s pre-approval. This new screening process is likely to slow down exports and hurt the South Korean electronics makers that rely on the materials, most of which are only available from the Japanese suppliers. [Nikkei Asian Review]

In a stern response, the South Korean government announced to take necessary reactions, including filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization. [Korea Herald]

2 July 2019

Japan slaps sanctions on its tech exports to South Korea

(jyk) Underscoring currently frosty relations between Japan and South Korea over the drawn-out issue of compensation of South Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of Korean peninsula  [AiR 4/6/2019], the Japanese government announced its plan to restrict Japanese exports of semiconductor manufacturing materials used in smartphone displays and chips to South Korea.

The move includes tighter export controls as well as removing South Korea from a “white list” of countries that face minimum restrictions on transfers of technology with national security implications. Removal from the “white list” implies all South Korea-bound exports of advanced technologies and electronic parts that have the potential for military use will require Japanese government’s pre-approval. This new screening process is likely to slow down exports and hurt the South Korean electronics makers that rely on the materials, most of which are only available from the Japanese suppliers. [Nikkei Asian Review]

In a stern response, the South Korean government announced to take necessary reactions, including filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization. [Korea Herald]

2 July 2019

Japan’s upcoming Upper House election: Political parties clash over tax and constitutional revision

(jyk) Three weeks ahead of the election of one half of Japan’s Upper House members, leaders of political parties clashed over the controversial issues of increasing the consumption tax and revising Japan’s constitution. Countering criticisms from rivaling parties on both issues during the first public debate after the government had announced 21st of July as election date, Prime Minister Abe upheld his pledges to raise the consumption tax from 8% to 10% in October to finance free education and child care programs, and to rewrite the country’s war renouncing Article 9 in current pacifist Constitution. [Nikkei] [Mainichi]

18 June 2019

China-USA relations: Hong Kong protest a leverage for Washington in trade dispute?

(dql) Indicating an unexpected leverage for U.S. President Trump at the G20 Summit at the end of the month in Japan where he is scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi to strike a deal to resolve the trade dispute, U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo announced that Hong Kong human rights would be among the issues to be discussed between Presidents Trump and Xi should they meet at the G20 summit at the end of the month. [Reuters]

Hong Kong, due to its status as an independent economic and customs area separate from mainland China, has so far been largely exempted from the US tariffs. However, China-hawks in Congress last week discussed introducing legislation to revoke Hong Kong’s autonomy status. [Forbes]

For recommendations on how the U.S should respond to the protests last week, centering around a public statement of President of “moral and verbal support to keep freedom’s ember glowing in Hong Kong” followed by drastic economic measures including delisting the six largest China’s companies from the U.S. stock exchange and a total on Huawei, see Grant Newsham in [AND].

18 June 2019

Japan seeks Mongolia’s support in North Korean abduction issue

(jyk) Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono met his Mongolian counterpart in Ulaanbaatar on Sunday, in an effort to seek Mongolia’s cooperation in resolving issues related to North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals in 1970s and 80s. The two agreed on the importance of fully implementing U.N. sanctions against North Korea toward denuclearization, according to Japanese officials. This is the first time in 9 years for a Japanese foreign minister to visit Mongolia, and the two agreed to deepen ties. North Korea has reacted coldly to Japanese Prime Minister’s offer of holding a meeting so far. Japan currently lists 17 people as missing from NK’s abduction, five of whom were repatriated in 2002. [Mainichi]

11 June 2019

Singapore primary source of foreign direct investment in India

(ls) Singapore is the top source of foreign direct investment (FDI) in India. In the last Indian financial year, the country received FDI inflows from Singapore valued at US$16.23 billion. The city state was followed by Mauritius (US$8.08 billion), the Netherlands (US$3.87 billion), the United States (US$3.14 billion) and Japan (US$2.97 billion). The rise of Singapore as an FDI source can partly be attributed to tax treaty amendments that India signed in recent years with Singapore and others like Mauritius that have brought tax parity, providing a level playing field. [Straits Times]

11 June 2019

India and Japan agree to hold “2+2” talks

(ls) India and Japan have agreed to hold a “2+2” dialogue between the defense and foreign ministers of the two countries. It is likely to take place ahead of the summit-level meeting between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe later in the year. So far, India had engaged in such a dialogue format at this level only with the United States since last year. One of the primary objectives for both New Delhi and Tokyo is to prevent the rise of a unipolar Asia dominated by one single hegemonic power. [The Diplomat]

11 June 2019

Japan-Russia relations: Putin says US-Japanese military cooperation impeding peace talks over territorial dispute

(jyk) Ahead of his meeting of his planned meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the G 20 summit in Japan at the end of the month, Russian President Vladimir Putin called at a press conference last week Japan’s military cooperation with U.S an impediment to both sides’ efforts to come to terms on peace treaty, which will also include the settlement of the territorial disputes over the four northern islands located near Hokkaido and the Russian border.

Putin’s statement is the latest reflection of two countries’ deadlock in a long-standing dispute over these islands, with Japan claiming that Russia seized them illegally in World War II, and Russia claiming the seizure was a legitimate consequence of the war. [Japan Times]

It echoes the failure of the last ‘two plus two’ meeting the between Japanese and Russian Foreign and Defense Ministers on this issue two week ago at which both sides accused each other of unacceptable military buildups in the region. [AiR 1/6/2019]

4 June 2019

Japan-Russia relations: Another failed attempt to resolve dispute over islands

(dql) Last week a ‘two plus two’ meeting the between Japanese and Russian Foreign and Defense Ministers failed to achieve a breakthrough in the long-standing territorial dispute between the two countries. Both sides insisted on their own country’s sovereignty over the disputed islands, referred to as the Kurils by Russia and the Northern Territories by the Japanese. Furthermore, both sides accused each other of unacceptable military buildups in the region, with Tokyo denouncing Moscow’s expansion of its military presence in the islands as “unacceptable” while Moscow criticized Tokyo for its plans to install a US-made Aegis Ashore missile defense system. The failed meeting last week adds to a number of previous equally unsuccessful talks on foreign minister level earlier this year. [Japan Times] [DW]

4 June 2019

Japan: Same-sex marriage bill submitted

(dql) Weeks after Taiwan in a historic first in Asia legalized same-sex marriage [AiR 3/5/2109], major opposition parties in Japan submitted a bill this week calling for the legalization of gay marriage in the world’s third-biggest economy. Analysts, however, believe that the move will not be successful given that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party so far has done nothing to promote civil rights for LGBT people. Furthermore, the bill would possibly face a constitutional hurdle, as Japan’s constitution in Art. 24 defines marriage as “based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.” [Bloomberg] 

28 May 2019

Japan: Ruling and opposition parties agree on bill to ban physical punishment of children

(dql) Last week, the ruling and opposition parties jointly submitted a bill banning parents and other guardians to use physical punishment as method to discipline children for enactment in the Diet during the current session which is expected to end in June.

Background of this move to reform child protection legislation are recent cases of fatal cases of abuse conducted in the name of disciplining children including the death of a 10-year-old girl as result of suspected physical abuse by her father.

While Japan’s current child abuse prevention law stipulates that assault and lewd acts constitute abuse, it only urges people to “give due consideration to appropriate exercise” of parental authority with regards to disciplining children. [Mainichi]

However, the new envisioned legislation still falls short of stipulating penalties for offenders.

28 May 2019

Japan: Ruling and opposition parties agree on bill to ban physical punishment of children

(dql) Last week, the ruling and opposition parties jointly submitted a bill banning parents and other guardians to use physical punishment as method to discipline children for enactment in the Diet during the current session which is expected to end in June.

Background of this move to reform child protection legislation are recent cases of fatal cases of abuse conducted in the name of disciplining children including the death of a 10-year-old girl as result of suspected physical abuse by her father.

While Japan’s current child abuse prevention law stipulates that assault and lewd acts constitute abuse, it only urges people to “give due consideration to appropriate exercise” of parental authority with regards to disciplining children. [Mainichi]

However, the new envisioned legislation still falls short of stipulating penalties for offenders.

28 May 2019

Japan: Court rules defunct eugenics law unconstitutional but denies damages

(dql) A Japanese Court this week declared Japan’s Eugenic Protection Law of 1948 – defunct since 1996 – unconstitutional, but dismissed a damages suit against the Japanese state filed by two women who were forcibly sterilized. In the first of a number of similar suits filed with seven district courts, the Sendai district court argued that the state was not obliged to pay compensation because of the expiration of the 20-year statute of limitations on demands for damages under the Civil Code, stressing the forced sterilization of the plaintiffs was more than 40 years ago. [Reuters]

11 March 2019

Japan: Cabinet endorses legal reform to ban harassment in workplace

(dql) Japan’s cabinet last week approved legal changes outlawing any form of workplace harassment. Furthermore, the revisions oblige firms to prevent abuses of power or bullying, prohibit disadvantageous treatment of workers who report they are the target of sexual harassment, and require firms whose employees sexually harass someone at another company to make sufficient efforts to cooperate with that company in investigating the case. The legislation, however, falls short of setting punitive measures to be taken against violators. [Japan Today]

11 March 2019

Japan-Korea relations: Tokyo considers retaliatory measures over wartime forced labor dispute

(dql) Fuelling tensions between Japan and South Korea, Tokyo is reportedly considering raising tariffs on South Korean products and other measures in response to the seizure and possible sale of assets from two Japanese companies that were ordered by the South Korean Supreme Court last year to pay compensation to South Korean victims of forced labour during wartime. [AiR 3/1/2019]

According to sources, Japan has already compiled of list of around 100 items for possible retaliatory actions, including tariff hikes, suspension in the supply of some Japanese products and visa issuance restrictions. [


11 March 2019

Japan’s Self-Defense Force: New type of patrol ship planned

(dql) According to government sources, a plan is underway to start in 2020 construction of a new type of Maritime Self-Defense Force patrol ship, to be mainly used for reconnaissance and surveillance activities in territorial waters. The government aims to have 12 such patrol ships over the next 10 years. [Japan News]

For a critical assessment of Japan’s neglect in SDF personnel recruitment policy see Grant Newsham in [Japan Forward].

11 March 2019

Uncertain future of the “Quad”

(ls) Admiral Phil Davidson, who heads the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, suggested on Thursday that the so-called Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), a loose security grouping of the U.S., Japan, Australia and India, may be shelved for now. Davidson referred, in particular, to remarks made by the Indian Navy chief who did not see any immediate potential of the Quad. However, on Friday, a Pentagon spokesperson said the U.S. will continue to have regular diplomatic meetings to “coordinate our respective visions of and efforts in the Indo-Pacific region.” [Times of India] [Indian Express]

The United States and the other three countries had come together to provide humanitarian assistance after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe then suggested to form the Quad, which met three years later. The meetings stopped for a decade after China formally reached out to each country to seek information on the meetings’ purpose. The Quad then met again in 2017. India had stressed in the past that the Quad was not a military grouping. [The Diplomat]

4 March 2019

Japan: Labor minister survives no-confidence motion

(dql) Japan’s labor minister Takumi Nemoto last week survived a no-confidence motion in the Lower House submitted by opposition parties accusing him of being implicated in an attempt by the government to make the Prime Minister’s “Abenomics” economic policy package appear more successful by using faulty job data which led to the underpayment of work-related benefits to more than 20 million people [AiR 5/1/2019].

The motion demanding Nemoto’s resignation was voted down by the majority of the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party. [Mainichi]

4 March 2019

Japan: Record budget approved by Lower House

(dql) The Lower House approved on Saturday a record 913 billion USD budget for the fiscal year starting on 1 April, with more than a third allocated (304 billion USD) for social security programs such as pensions and health care to cope with the increasingly large part of elderly people among the population. [Japan Times 1]

Signaling Japan’s ageing society, a survey of Japan’s National Association of Towns and Villages, released last week, revealed that as of July 2018 out of the 10,956 town and village assembly members 8,442, or 77.1 percent, were aged 60 or over. The average age stands at 64.2. [Japan Times 2]

4 March 2019

Japan: Law banning corporal punishment of children on the way

(dql) Following recent cases of child maltreatment, including the death of two girls aged five and 10 resulting from overly harsh ‘disciplining’ actions by the girls’ fathers, the Japanese government is now pushing for a reform of existing laws to ban corporal punishment of children by parents, child welfare facility heads and foster parents. [Mainichi]

Japan’s current related laws don’t rule out corporal punishment as means of disciplining children.

4 March 2019

Japan-Russia relations: Bumpy road towards a peace treaty

(dql) In a move further complicating talks on a peace treaty, Moscow has called the alliance between Tokyo and Washington a threat and impediment to improving Japanese-Russian bilateral ties. [Japan Today]

In an earlier move last week, several Russian officials made a visit to the disputed Southern Kuril Islands on the occasion of the launching of an underwater fiber-optic communication line providing local residents with Internet access. The visit prompted a stern protest from Tokyo, calling the act “unacceptable”. [TASS]

Moscow’s moves comes as relations between Russia and the USA are deteriorating in the wake of the US withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and as Japan’s Lower House just approved the 2019 budget allocating a record high of almost 50 billion USD for defense spending including the purchase of Aegis Ashore missile defense system and half a dozen F-35A stealth fighters. [Kyodo News] [Nikkei Asian Review]