Asia in Review Archive (2019-2020)


Date of AiR edition

News summary

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]