Asia in Review Archive 2021

Japan

Date of AiR edition

News summary

20 July 2021

Japan: Backlash against Suga’s administration over controversial plans on alcohol ban

(dx) Japan’s government announced that it has retracted its plan to ask financial institutions to ensure restaurants follow the alcohol ban. Earlier, Yasutoshi Nishimura, the economic revitalization minister who is also in charge of Covid-19 response, said the government will share with financial institutions information about their client restaurants that are not complying with the alcohol ban request and want financial institutions to ensure restaurants follow the request. The policy was regarded as an implicit threat to withhold loans from restaurants and bars, and drew criticism that the government was attempting to use lenders to pressure such establishments. 

Another request of the government, which asks liquor wholesalers, including the All Japan Liquor Merchants Association and other business groups, to stop transactions with bars and restaurants that refuse to temporarily shut down was retracted as well. The request was retracted after the association voiced its discontent to lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and hinted at consequences for the Lower House election this fall. The second retraction led the opposition parties to call for Nishimura’s resignation.

In the meantime, the online movement “anything but the LDP or Komeito”, which calls for not voting for LDP or its coalition partner Komeito, is trending on Twitter Japan. Dissatisfaction among the Japanese public over the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, including Nishimura’s recent comment, has been fuelling such protests. [Mainichi 1] [Mainichi 2, in Japanese] [Mainichi 3] [Asahi Shimbun]

20 July 2021

North Korea lashes out against Japan for claim to Liancourt Rocks

(nds) Ahead of the commencement of the Tokyo Olympic Games, North Korea blamed Japan for claiming the Dokdo isletsand marking the islests as Japanese territory on the map of the relay of the flame published on the official site of the Olympic Summer Games. [Yonhap]

Dokdo has been a subject of dispute between the both Koreas and Japan for many years remain strained. The islets have been administered since 1954 by the South Korean Coast Guard, which has a military base there.

20 July 2021

Japan-South Korea relations: South Korean President not to visit Tokyo for Olympic Games

(dql) South Korea announced that President Moon Jae-in’s decided not to visit Tokyo for the upcoming Olympic Games, scrapping plans for what would have been his first summit between the two leaders. The decision was prompted by a news report that a senior diplomat at Japan’s embassy in Seoul had said Moon was “masturbating” when describing his efforts to improve relations between the two countries.

This latest incident adds to already frosty relations over territorial claims and their wartime history, crushing previous hopes that the Tokyo Games might provide an opportunity for a fresh start for bilateral and regional cooperation. [Reuters]

20 July 2021

Japan-UK relations: Expanding defense ties

(dql) The British and Japanese Defense Ministers have announced that the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and its strike group will visit Japanese ports in September for joint exercises. In addition, Britain will permanently deploy two warships in Asian waters. [Reuters] [Military.COM]

Furthermore, Tokyo and London are discussing a potential joint program to develop aero-engine technologies that will power Japan’s next-generation F-X fighter aircraft. [Japan News]

13 July 2021

Taiwan-Japan relations: Tokyo takes up Taiwan Strait stability in defense report for first time

(nds) In its 2021 defense report, released this Tuesday, Japan for the first time has taken up the issue of stability around Taiwan, concluding that in the light of China’s military activities around Taiwan ‘[s]tabilizing the situation surrounding Taiwan is important for Japan’s security and the stability of the international community.” This, in turn, would require to closer observe the military trends of both the US and China in the South China Sea and Taiwan. [Ministry of Defense, Japan)

Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, meanwhile, went a step further by warning: “If a major problem took place in Taiwan, it would not be too much to say that it could relate to a survival-threatening situation [for Japan],” adding that in the case of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, Japan and the United States would have to defend Taiwan together. [Kyodo News]

Aso’s remark refers to Japan’s security legislation of 2014/2015 which allows the use of force “to the minimum extent necessary” as measures for self-defense “when there is no other appropriate means available to repel the attack and ensure Japan’s survival and protect its people.” [Government, Japan]

It signals a new high in security ties between Japan and Taiwan, backed by Washington’s and Tokyo’s shared interest in securing peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait.  [Observer Research Foundation] [The Diplomat]

13 July 2021

South Korea-Japan relations: Discussions on Moon-Suga summit on the sidelines of the Tokyo Olympics 

(nm) With the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and tensions between neighbouring Japan and South Korea still not resolved, government officials from both nations are allegedly working out ways for South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to hold their first bilateral summit on the sidelines of the Olympics opening ceremony. Seoul government officials, however, have also made clear that while there is potential for Moon to attend the ceremony, his visit would depend on the condition of holding a results-oriented summit. 

No South Korean President has travelled to Japan for a bilateral meeting since 2011 and Moon had only visited Tokyo for a trilateral meeting involving China in 2018. While there has been some discussion on Moon attending the opening ceremony, Seoul is now clearly putting the onus on Japan to show efforts in improving ties. Moon has also faced domestic pressure as some politicians have advocated for him attending the ceremony in order to ease tensions, while others are more critical, suggesting that the Japanese side is not showing enough diplomatic efforts. [Korea Times 1]

Japanese-South Korean ties are still at their worst in years following a string of diplomatic, historic, and economic issues, including disagreement over the handling of wartime forced labour, the planned disposal of Fukushima wastewater into the Pacific Ocean, and Japanese export curbs on materials vital for South Korea’s semiconductor industry. Relations have more openly deteriorated ever since the Moon-Suga meeting set to take place on the sidelines of the recent G7-summit was called off by the Japanese side over tensions related to a group of islets that both nations claim sovereignty over. [Nikkei Asia] [Korea Times 2] [Korea Herald 1] [Korea Herald 2

Adding pressure to the dispute, South Korea’s foreign ministry this week alleged UNESCO recently expressed “strong regret” over Japan not fulfilling its earlier promise to acknowledge the use of forced labour, including that of Koreans, during World War II at its World Heritage Sites. In 2015, some 23 Japanese historical industrial towns had been designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, triggering opposition by South Korea which had pointed at the use of Korean forced labour in those very cities and their character as a building block for Japan’s subsequent Korean occupation. [Korea Times 3] [DW, German]

 

13 July 2021

Japan: Opposition parties call for extraordinary Diet session before Olympics

(dx) Japan’s government and the ruling parties have been urged by the opposition camp to convene an extraordinary Diet session before the Tokyo Olympics kick off on July 23, but the request was expected to be dropped. The request came immediately after the Suga administration’s decision to implement a fourth state of emergency for the capital to help contain the Covid-19 pandemic. The opposition parties blasted the government for forging ahead with the Games while a state of emergency exists, complaining that doing so goes against all steps taken to date to bring the health crisis under control. They said the event should be canceled, or at least postponed. The opposition parties plan to file a request for International Olympic Committee President to be summoned to the Diet to face questioning. [Asahi Shimbun]

13 July 2021

Japan: Major personnel changes in Suga’s government

(dx) The government decided to appoint former Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba, a close aide to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his predecessor Shinzo Abe, as secretary-general of Japan’s National Security Secretariat. Akiba will be responsible for beefing up the country’s alliance with the United States and forging a stable relationship with China, amid escalating tensions between Washington and Beijing. He will also work on improving chilly relations between Japan and South Korea. He succeeds Shigeru Kitamura who retired from the country’s top security post for health reasons.

The Japanese government named Koji Yano, director general of the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau and a former aide to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, as the country’s new top finance bureaucrat — the vice finance minister. The government also named Masato Kanda, who heads the ministry’s International Bureau, as Japan’s top currency diplomat — the vice finance minister for international affairs. [Mainichi 1] [Mainichi 2] [Japan Times]

 

6 July 2021

South Korea-Japan relations: Tensions rising as Moon commemorates industrial self-sufficiency 

(nm) Tensions between Japan and South Korea are rising again with South Korea last week adopting a series of measures exposing the historic drift between the two nations. On Tuesday, the National Assembly adopted a resolution condemning Tokyo’s plan to release the cooling water of the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean. In April, the Japanese government had announced its decision to release the wastewater currently stored in tanks into the ocean as storage capacity is apparently going to run out in 2022. Neighbouring nations, including Korea, had protested the decision as their interests were allegedly not sufficiently regarded. The resolution now calls for close consultations with neighbouring countries, including the participation of the South Korean government in the joint investigation led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). [Korea Times 1]

Following the resolution, a parliamentary committee on Wednesday also passed a bipartisan resolution demanding the removal of the contested islets of Dokdo/Takeshima from one official Tokyo Olympics map and denouncing Japan’s included claim to sovereignty over the island.

Demands calling on South Korean President Moon Jae-in not to visit Japan in conjunction with the Olympics have since grown domestically. Some have even demanded a boycott of the games over the issue. The resolution now also urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to take proactive measures. The islets have been a persistent issue in Seoul-Tokyo relations and have become an important symbol since Korea’s liberation from Japanese occupation. [Korea Times 2] [Korea Herald]

On Friday then, President Moon declared South Korea’s industrial self-sufficiency, implying that Japanese export restrictions failed to show the intended effects. Japan has been imposing strict export regulation on industrial materials critical for chip and display industries – the heart of South Korea’s economy – since 2019. While Tokyo attributed the restrictions to Seoul’s failure to control trade of sensitive items, South Koreans widely regard the measures as a direct response to a court ruling ordering Japanese companies to compensate victims of wartime forced labour. [Korea Times 3]

Long-standing tensions between the two nations have been showing more openly again ever since Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga had failed to meet on the sidelines of the June G-7 summit in England. The planned meeting was allegedly called off by the Japanese side when it was informed that South Korea’s navy would participate in military drills around the contested Dokdo/ Takeshima islets. The US Biden administration is seeking to bring the two sides together in an effort to establish a trilateral cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. [Nikkei Asia]

6 July 2021

Japan, Philippines hold first ever joint air force drills

(dql) In a historic first, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and the Philippine Air Force on Monday kicked off four-day joint exercises near Manila. The drills cover training in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, involving an ASDF C-130H strategic transporter. [Nippon]

The drills come on the heels of an agreement between Japan’s Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in May to strengthen diplomatic relations as both Tokyo and Manila are locked in separate territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, respectively.

Meanwhile, a Philippine Air Force plane carrying troops bound for counterinsurgency operations in the southern Philippines crashed on the southern island of Jolo on Sunday. Of the 96 soldiers and crew members aboard, 49 were killed. [Aljazeera]

6 July 2021

Japan urges Myanmar to prevent repeat of raids on embassy and aid staff

(lm) Japan has lodged a protest with the Myanmar military junta after a Japanese government source revealed that a housing complex occupied by Japanese diplomatic staff had been forcibly entered by security forces in April earlier this year.

The armed personnel were apparently trying to search the premises of pro-democracy forces that oppose the military, but they withdrew once they learned the occupants were Japanese. [South China Morning Post

While the staff were not harmed, the security forces’ actions “risked the safety of the Japanese nationals” and violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, a high-ranking Japanese official said on July 5. The treaty stipulates the protection of diplomats from arrest or detention and the inviolability of mission premises. [The Japan Times]

6 July 2021

Japan: House of Representatives seat allocation reviews 

The government’s electoral reform panel will soon begin reviewing the allocation of House of Representatives seats in some of the country’s 47 prefectures based on the latest census, with an aim to amend vote weight disparities. Currently, a vote weight disparity between the most populated No. 22 constituency in Tokyo and the least populated No. 2 constituency in the western prefecture of Tottori is 2.09 times. 

The envisaged review will give five new seats to Tokyo, two to neighboring Kanagawa Prefecture, and one each to Chiba, Saitama and Aichi, while 10 prefectures – Miyagi, Fukushima, Niigata, Shiga, Wakayama, Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Ehime and Nagasaki – will each lose one seat. 

According to the newly released preliminary results from the 2020 census, 9 prefectures recorded population gains while population dropped in 38 prefectures, which were mainly rural areas. Additionally, Japan’s total population decreased 0.7% over the 2015 census. [Asahi Shimbun] [Japan Times]

 

6 July 2021

Japan: Ruling coalition fails to win majority in Tokyo assembly election

(dql) In Sunday’s election for the Tokyo metropolitan assembly, Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner Komeito failed to secure an outright majority, with the former winning 33 out 127, and the latter 23. 

The election was closely watched as it was seen as a bellwether for a Lower House election that needs to be held by October as the four-year terms of its 465 members will end on October 21.  [Aljazeera]

29 June 2021

Japan: Official campaigning begins for Tokyo assembly election

(dx) Official campaigning for the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election kicked off, an event regarded as the prelude to the House of Representatives election this fall. The main focus of the election is whether the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito will prevail over Tomin First, which currently holds the largest number of seats in the assembly – 46 out of 127.  

Major issues for the race include parties’ responses to the Covid-19 pandemic and how to stage the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. The LDP and Komeito, the 2nd and 3rd largest parties in the assembly, are vowing to safe and secure Olympics and Paralympics with proper anti-COVID-19 measures. Tomin First, calls for the hosting of the event without spectators. The Japanese Communist Party demands that the Tokyo Games be cancelled, while the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan is pushing for another postponement or cancellation. [Kyodo News1] [Kyodo News2]

29 June 2021

Japan: Supreme Court rules forcing couples to share surname constitutional 

(dx) Upholding a previous judgement from 2015, Japan’s Supreme Court ruled that, legal provisions in Article 750 of the country’s Civil Code and family register law, forcing married couples to use the same surname, are constitutional. It dismissed requests filed by three couples to keep their separate surnames after local governments refused to accept their marriage registrations, leaving Japan the only country in the world known for having a law forcing married couples to share a surname.

The court’s decision reiterated that the surname issue should be discussed in parliament rather than seeking a judicial settlement. Although the 2015 ruling called for parliamentary discussions, they haven’t progressed much as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) members’ opinions are sharply divided. LDP’s working group also gave up drafting a specific proposal regarding the surname issue ahead of the House of Representatives election this fall. [Mainichi]

29 June 2021

Japan stresses importance of Taiwan’s security 

(nds) In line with Japan’s recent diplomatic efforts to position itself against China’s threats towards Taiwan, Japan’s Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi assured in an interview that the security of Taiwan is directly tied with that of Japan, adding that Japan is “closely monitoring ties between China and Taiwan, as well as Chinese military activity.” 

His remark comes as recently 28 Chinese warplanes flew near Taiwan. At the closest point, they were 110 km from Japan. [Taipei Times[Eurasia Review]

In a latest development, Japan’s Deputy Defense Minister Yasuhide Nakayama this week warned of a growing threat posed by Chinese and Russian collaboration and urged allies to “wake up” to Beijing’s pressure on Taiwan and protect the island “as a democratic country.” He also raised the question whether the decision of Japan and United States and many other nations to follow a “one-China” policy would stand the test of time. [Reuters]

22 June 2021

South Korea and Japan hold talks to work on strained ties  

(nm) Representatives of South Korea and Japan held working-level talks this week in their efforts to overcome historic and other issues that have significantly strained their countries’ relation. The meeting between Seoul’s director general for Asia and Pacific affairs Lee Sang-ryeol and his Japanese counterpart Takehiro Funakoshi comes just before trilateral talks with newly appointed United States special envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in Seoul this week. 

During their talks, Lee stressed that Japan needed to show its efforts to resolve tensions over wartime issues, including forced labour and sexual slavery, continued territorial claims to the islets of Dokdo/Takashima, and Japan’s recent plans to release Fukushima wastewater into the ocean which were met with opposition by neighbouring countries. Due to the tensions between the two nations, Tokyo recently cancelled an agreed-upon meeting on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Britain earlier this month. During this week’s meeting, both nations acknowledged the need to reach stable ties for the peace and stability of the region and beyond.  [Korea Herald]

22 June 2021

Japan-Philippine relations: Memorandum on space cooperation concluded

(dql) Japan and the Philippines signed a space cooperation agreement which provides a framework for potential cooperation in various fields, including space applications, satellite development, capacity building for space technology, space science and space exploration, as well as space industry promotion.

The agreement follows earlier cooperation between the Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in the development of satellites in this year. [Inquirer.Net]

In a separate development, Japan’s parliament approved a bill that allows private business operators to explore and use space resources and other non-living resources in outer space, on the Moon and other celestial bodies. Japan is after the US, Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates the fourth country to have a law for the exploration and exploitation of space resources. [Space News]

 

22 June 2021

Japan calls for stronger European military involvement in Indo-Pacific

(dql) Speaking to the European Parliament’s subcommittee on security and defence and citing China’s “unilateral attempts to change the status quo,” in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi called on the European Union to be stronger militarily involved in the Indo-Pacific to counter growing influence of China in this region.

His call comes as the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will visit Japan on its maiden deployment this year, whereby leading a flotilla of Royal Navy ships in a high-profile tour through Asian waters, and conducting drills with forces from Japan, Australia, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand, and a number of European states including France, Denmark, Greece, Italy and Greece. [South China Morning Post]

In a latest related development, Japan’s Coast Guard confirmed that two Chinese coast guard ships sailed into Japanese territorial waters off the Senkaku Islands in the early hours of Tuesday, shortly after two other Chinese vessels had stayed in the waters until late Monday for about 42 hours. [Japan Times]

22 June 2021

Japan: No-confidence motion against Suga squashed

(dx) A no-confidence motion, submitted by four opposition parties against Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, was voted down by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), junior coalition partner Komeito and Japan Innovation Party. The motion was launched after Suga refused opposition parties’ demands for a three-month extension of the current Diet. 

The motion and the demands for an extension of the parliamentary session come at a time when  the Suga administration is facing strong criticism for its handling of the pandemic as well as public discontent over e LDP lawmakers’ dining treats by companies and vote-buying scandals involving LDP politicians. [Asahi Shimbun] [Japan Times] [Air No.4, January/2021, 4] [Air No.14, April/2021, 1] [Air No.18, May/2021, 1]

 

22 June 2021

Japan: Law tightening land-use rules at high-importance sites is enacted

(dx) Japan’s parliament passed a bill tightening regulations on the acquisition and use of land around high-importance sites deemed vital to national security, such as Self-Defense Forces (SDF) facilities, US military bases and nuclear plants. The law designates land located within 1 kilometer of high-importance sites as well as remote islands on the national border as ”watch zones,” where authorities will be allowed to collect information on owners of land and to order or recommend problematic acts such as radio frequency sabotage, be halted. Prospective purchasers will also be obliged to submit to the government their name, nationality and their intended usage of the land.  

Opposition parties objected the bill citing fears that it could excessively impinge on individual rights and give the government power to apply it arbitrarily. Furthermore, rights activists expressed concerns over heightened surveillance on residents living in the vicinity of military bases of the US and the SDF. [Mainichi] [Asahi Shimbun

15 June 2021

Taiwan expresses appreciation for G7 support

(nds) Taiwanese authorities have extended their appreciation to the leaders of the Group of Seven, following their communique in which they underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues. It is the first time that G7 leaders have expressed such Taiwan-friendly content, reflecting a shift towards a more muscular stance against China with regards to cross-strait relations.

Although most countries, including G7 members, do not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, they have recently deepened their support for the island. [Taiwan News] 

15 June 2021

Japan-Taiwan relations are “non-governmental”, Tokyo confirms 

(nd) Following Beijing’s protest over a recent reference to the Taiwan as a country, the Japanese government has backtracked and re-affirmed that the country’s relations with Taiwan are non-governmental, practical and based on Tokyo’s recognition of China’s “one country, two systems” and of China as the sole legitimate government. 

China’s protest came after Prime Minister Yohishide Suga in a parliamentary debate had called Taiwan a country during a press conference. [The China Post

Meanwhile, a motion calling for Taiwan’s attendance at the World Health Assembly (WHA) was unanimously approved by Japan’s Upper House on 11 June, marking first time that Japan’s House of Councillors has supported Taiwan’s participation in international organizations through a resolution. [Taiwan News]

15 June 2021

G7 Summit 2021: Key takeaways and plans for the future

(ad) This year’s G7 Summit took place in Cornwall in the United Kingdom from 11th June to 13th June, with discussions over climate change, the pandemic and international relations. The meeting included the leaders of the G7, as well as representatives of European Commission and European Council and three guest nations, Australia, India and South Korea.

The Summit had three important focuses.

First is to donate 1 billion vaccines to poorer nations to help combat COVID-19. However, this pledge falls extremely short of the actual doses needed, up to 11 billion doses. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the summit “an unforgivable moral failure” and that these efforts will still leave millions of people unvaccinated. 

The second item on the agenda was on the environment. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that the G7 wanted to “drive a global Green Industrial Revolution”. The G7 leaders all committed to reducing their carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030. They also pledged to stop using coal and end support for the fossil fuel sector. Their ultimate goal is to use wind, solar and other renewable sources of energy. However, they never agreed on a date to stop using coal. Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan voiced her disappointment over this, “This was a moment when the G7 could have shown historic leadership, and instead they left a massive void”. [CNA] [Singapore Tattler] [Deutsche Welle]

The third and perhaps the most important agenda for the summit was how the G7 as a whole could combat China’s rising influence. Prior to the summit, Chinese Embassy’s spokesperson in London stated, “The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone”, specifically targeting the G7 Summit.

For most G7 countries, dealing with China has proved to be a paradox, whereby they needed China to cooperate with them over climate change and simultaneously, maintain a strong stance against China’s human rights violations and exploitative methods.

Biden’s Indo-Pacific policy director described this as “complex coexistence paradigms”. President Biden has proposed plans for a western belt and road initiative, designed to counter China’s growing dominance. The Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative is created to provide infrastructure to low- and middle-income nations. Council of Foreign Relations representative Jennifer Hillman stated that B3W was created not to get rid of the Belt and Road initiative, but instead to provide an alternative competitor to balance the power struggle. [The Guardian] [White House]

15 June 2021

Japan: Suga’s approval rating sinks to record low

(dx) The approval rating for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Cabinet has dropped to a record-low 37% while the disapproval rate hit 50%, up from 46% in May. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)’s approval rating fell to 33%, the lowest since the inauguration of the Suga Cabinet. The plunge in public confidence for Suga’s administration is widely attributed to the relatively slow Covid-19 vaccine rollout, recent LDP gift and money scandals and general disapproval over the decision to hold the Tokyo Olympic Games. [Yomiuri, in Japanese] [Gzero Media]

 

15 June 2021

Japan: LGBTQ activists push for equality act before Olympics

(dx) Japanese sexual minority groups and their supporters submitted requests to the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in a last-ditch effort to get the equality act passed before the Tokyo Olympics. Earlier, the submission of a cross-party bill, which aims at protecting LGBT groups from discrimination and promoting awareness among the public of LGBT, was suspended due to strong resistances from LDP’s conservatives. Currently, LGBTQ activists are pushing for the passage of the equality act since international attention falls on Tokyo as it hosts the Olympics, but the prospect of the passage of legislation is uncertain. [Asahi Shimbun] [see AiR No. 22 June/2021, 1]

15 June 2021

Japan: Parties boost female candidates’ number ahead of polls

(dx) Japanese political parties are competing to include more female candidates ahead of the House of Representatives election this fall. Many parties have set numerical goals for female candidates, with the Democratic Party for the People, the Constitutional Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party – all of them are opposition parties – aiming for having female lawmakers account for 35%, 30% and 50% respectively in their organizations. Currently, women comprise just 9.9% of lawmakers in the House of Representatives and 22.9% in the House of Councillors. [Mainichi]

In a separate development, the Diet passed an amendment to the “Act on Promotion of Gender Equality in the Political Field” urging political parties, the national and local governments to take measures to prevent sexual harassment and “matahara” (harassment over pregnancy and childbirth), which are considered major barriers that prevent the number of females in the political field from increasing. 

The Act was passed in 2018 and calls on the political parties to equalize female and male candidates. [Asahi Shimbun, in Japanese] [Japanese Law Translation] [Asahi Shimbun]

15 June 2021

Indonesia, along with South Africa and Mexico, backs G7 Global Tax reform proposal 

(sa) Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati along with the Finance Ministers of South Africa Tito Mboweni and Mexico Arturo Herrera Gutierrez, in a joint article with U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, endorsed the Group of Seven (G7)’s proposal to the international tax system. [Reuters]

The changes are solely targeted at multinational firms as the G7 economies agreed on a minimum global corporate tax rate of at least 15%. Beyond raising tax rates, the changes are also targeted at tax havens to prevent mass capital outflows from the countries multinational corporations such as the likes of Google and Facebook who shift their profits to low-tax offshore havens. [Reuters]

The expected capital inflows and outflows because of the proposed changes are set to have clear losers, it has been expected that Ireland, Brazil, and Hungary are expected to lose from the deal. [Allianz]

15 June 2021

Japan, Czech Republic work with Cambodia over human resource development

(ad) Japan has recently pledged to continue providing more scholarships and training courses to Cambodia through the Ministry of Interior. The cooperation between the two countries will focus on health, human resource training and social assistance. Similarly, the Czech Republic has also promised its assistance to Cambodia in the human resource industry. Their cooperation will focus more on trade, investment and human resource training. [Khmer Times] [Agence Kampuchea Presse]

15 June 2021

South Korea-Japan relations: Bilateral summit meeting called off by Japan 

(nm) According to the South Korean foreign ministry, Japan has unilaterally called off a planned bilateral meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on the sidelines of last week’s Group of Seven (G7) summit in England, referring to the conflict around the debated Dokdo/Takeshima – or Liancourt Rocks – islets. South Korea, alongside Australia, India, and South Africa, had been invited to this year’s G7 summit as a guest nation. 

This week, South Korea is conducting its annual military drill on and around Liancourt Rocks which are at the center of a diplomatic dispute between the two nations as both claim them as part of their territory. The conflict around the islets erupts regularly and was renewed recently as Japan identified them as part of its territory on an official map for the Tokyo Olympics. [Korea Herald 1]

The planned bilateral meeting had been met with some anticipation and some observers had even speculated for a trilateral meeting including the United States which would have highlighted the three nations’ partnership in the Indo-Pacific region. According to one Japanese newspaper, the Japanese government also opposed the expansion of the Group of Seven to include South Korea. [Nikkei Asia 1] [Korea Times 1] [Korea Times 2] [Korea Herald 2]

Although the United States are currently trying to build a stable trilateral cooperation with both Japan and South Korea, wartime issues and economic tensions are considerable obstacles and have led to the deterioration of bilateral relations. A recent South Korean court ruling rejecting compensation claims by victims of wartime forced labour against several Japanese companies, however, supposedly opened up some room for a diplomatic solution to the issue. [Nikkei Asia 2

 

15 June 2021

North Korea: G7 group calls for complete denuclearization of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

(nd) The Group of Seven (G7) released a joint statement, on 13 June, calling for the complete denuclearization of the DPRK while welcoming the U.S. commitment under President Joe Biden to engage with North Korea through diplomacy. The G7 leaders demanded a “verifiable and irreversible” abandonment of Pyongyang’s ballistic programs and weapons of mass destruction. 

This joint statement is in line with the summit that took place between President Moon Jae-in and President Joe Biden last month. At the time, the U.S. president already emphasized Washington’s willingness to engage diplomatically with Pyongyang to take pragmatic steps toward denuclearization. The DPRK reportedly remains silent to this demand. [Yonhap

8 June 2021

South Korea-Japan relations: Seoul court rejects wartime forced labour lawsuit against Japanese companies 

(nm) A Seoul district court this week dismissed a compensation lawsuit filed by 85 victims of wartime forced labour against 16 Japanese companies. In its decision, the court referred to the 1965 Korea-Japan Settlements Claims Agreement which normalized ties between the two nations and covered victims’ rights to damages, saying proceeding with the case could breach international law as the settlement could not be exercised through lawsuits. 

This week’s decision came as a surprise as South Korea’s Supreme Court had ruled in a similar case in 2018 that the 1965 agreement did not terminate the victims’ right to seek reparation individually, leading to diplomatic tensions with Japan. In April, the same Seoul court had meted out a decision which similarly rejected a compensation lawsuit by 20 victims of wartime sexual forced labour against Japanese companies. [Nikkei Asia] [SCMP] [Korea Herald 1]

After the ruling, South Korea’s foreign ministry announced it remains open to discussing solutions on the issue of wartime forced labour with Japan, taking into consideration the court rulings, victims’ rights, and Korea-Japan relations. [Korea Herald 2]

The ruling comes amid strained relations between the two nations. Last week, the foreign ministry had called in a Japanese diplomat over an official map on the Tokyo Olympic website depicting the islands of Dokdo/Takeshima as part of Japanese territory. The conflict had led to some calling for a South Korean boycott of this year’s Olympics and further added to economic and historic tensions. [Korea Herald 3]

 

8 June 2021

Japan-Russia relations: Putin willing to continue peace treaty talks amid tension over impounded Japanese fishing boat

(dql) Speaking to heads of major international news agencies online during an international economic forum in St. Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he is ready to continue negotiations on a peace treaty with Japan despite barriers emerging from an amendment of Russia’s constitution last year that banned ceding any part of its territory.

Over 75 years after the end of World War II, Japan and Russia have still not concluded a peace treaty as the dispute over Russian-controlled islands claimed by Japan remains unresolved, with Japan maintaining that the islands are an inherent part of Japan’s territory and had been illegally occupied after the war. [TASS]

Putin’s statement comes a day after Japan confirmed that it has lodged a protest with Moscow for its decision to impound a Japanese trawler and detain its crew in late May. Russian border authorities cited the vessel’s intrusion into Russia’s exclusive economic zone as reason. [Mainichi]

 

8 June 2021

Japan: CDP chief to request summoning ex-PM Abe over vote-buying scandal

(dx) The opposition Constitutional Democratic Party’s chief Jun Azumi revealed that he intends to request the summoning of Shinzo Abe, the former ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president and prime minister, and LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai to the National Diet in relation to the 2019 House of Councillors election large-scale vote-buying scandal.

The scandal in question involves the money transfer of 150 million yen from LDP headquarters to the party branches headed respectively by its candidate Kawai Anri and her husband Kawai Katsuyuki, the former Minister of Justice. The couple conspired in bribing local politicians in Hiroshima constituency to secure Anri’s seat in the 2019 House of Councillors election and both of them were sentenced recently. [Mainichi News] [Air No.4, January/2021, 4] [Air No.18, May/2021, 1]

8 June 2021

Japan: Record low number of newborns in 2020

(dx) According to government data, the number of newborns fell to 840,832 in 2020 which marked the lowest level since the Ministry of Health started such surveys in 1899. The data revealed that the trend of nation’s rapid aging population is accelerating amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The average number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime and the number of marriages also decreased to the lowest in the post-World War II era, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. [Mainichi News]

8 June 2021

Japan: Former Economy Minister resigned as lawmaker over gift scandal

(dx) Isshu Sugawara, House of Representatives member and former Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, submitted his resignation to both the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the House of Representatives after prosecutors are carrying out investigations again over money and gift scandals which was once dropped. His resignation was approved by the LDP and the House. Sugawara’s resignation deals a blow to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is believed to have helped Sugawara secure his first Cabinet post in September 2019 under the Shinzo Abe administration.

In June 2020, prosecutors declared that Sugawara made illegal donations totalling 300,00 yen to people in his constituency, the Tokyo No.9 District, from 2017 to 2019 but decided against indictment. However, the investigation was reopened after the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution’s resolution in March 2021 and prosecutors are expected to bring a summary indictment against him. Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution consists of chosen citizens and can review and veto prosecutors’ non-prosecution decisions. [Asahi Shimbun 1] [Asahi Shimbun 2] [Kyodo News] [International Law Office]

In a separate development, Japan’s Ministry of Communications punished its 32 officials for ethics code violations after they were treated lavish dinners by companies under their supervision. The series of scandals were first exposed in February 2021 that senior officials of the Ministry of Communications were treated expensive dinners by Tohokushinsha Fil Corp. A similar case surfaced later over Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. Of the 32 officials, 9 have been subjected to disciplinary action, including 5 who were given pay cuts. Another 23 have been reprimanded, including Vice Minister Buichiro Kuroda. [Mainichi News] [Air No.14, April/2021, 1] 

8 June 2021

Japan: Law revised to encourage men to take paternity leave

(dx) Japan’s National Diet passed a law to establish a special system that permits men to take a leave of up to four weeks within eight weeks after childbirth starting around October 2022.

Further measures include employers will be asked to personally encourage workers whose wives are expecting childbirth to take paternity leave, starting from April 2022; Businesses with workforces over 1,000 employees will be required to disclose the ratio of male workers taking paternity leave, starting from April 2023. [Japan Times] [Asahi Shimbun]

1 June 2021

Singapore, Japan discuss areas of cooperation for post-COVID-19 recovery

(tcy) During a call on May 25, the Prime Ministers of Singapore and Japan, Lee Hsien Loong and Yoshihide Suga, exchanged views on regional and international developments. Prime Minister Lee expressed interest in deepening economic and public health cooperation with Japan in order to support the post-COVID-19 recoveries of both countries, including cooperation in areas such as the mutual recognition of health certificates. [The Straits Times 1]

It was also announced that Singapore is satisfied with the results of its food safety surveillance tests of imports from Fukushima and will be lifting these requirements. Previously, imports from Fukushima were subjected to pre-export tests and had to come with certificates of origin after an earthquake caused a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011. [The Straits Times 2]

 

1 June 2021

South Korea-Japan relations: Renewed tensions over islands trigger calls for Tokyo Olympics boycott  

(nm) A national petition as well as prominent South Korean politicians are exerting pressure to boycott the Tokyo Olympics set to begin July 23, as Tokyo remains firm on the Korea-controlled Dokdo islets. An official map on the International Olympic Committee’s website indicates the islets, which Japan claims and calls Takeshima, as part of Japan’s territory, fuelling historic tensions over the disputed islands. The Korean Foreign Ministry has been urging Tokyo to delete the islets from the map altogether ever since they appeared as part of Japan’s territory in July 2019, but Tokyo had responded only by making the dots less visible. Chung Eui-yong, Korea’s foreign minister, indicated last week that Japan’s “wrong behaviour” would not be tolerated, while former Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Democratic Party Lee Nak-yon also wrote that the government would “have to take stern measures by alle means possible, including the Olympic boycott.” A petition calling for boycotting the Olympics should Tokyo not delete the islets from the map was signed by 32,000 people.  [SCMP] [Korea Herald]

The dispute adds to existing tensions over historic wartime issues in relation to Japan’s colonisation of the Korean peninsula and trade issues. 

1 June 2021

Japan, EU share concerns over Taiwan

(dql) Japan and the European Union have agreed on a joint position with regards to Taiwan. In the joint statement following the virtually held 27th EU-Japan Summit last week both sides reaffirmed “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” and their commitment to “the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.” [European Council]

The reference to Taiwan was the first in a statement from the leaders of Japan and EU. It follows similar wording in a joint statement issued after Suga’s meeting with US President Joe Biden in April.

1 June 2021

Japan-US relations: Strengthening security alliance against China

(dql) Adm. John Aquilino met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in Tokyo on his first overseas trip in his new capacity of the new commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command. During the meeting both affirmed their countries’ strong opposition to China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the Indo-Pacific region. Aquilino and Suga further agreed to strengthen the Japan-US security alliance and pursue a free and open Indo-Pacific together.

In a separate conversation with Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, he affirmed the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. [Kyodo News]

 

1 June 2021

Japan: Bill to designate special security “watch zones” passes House of Representatives

(dql) Japan’s House of Representatives has approved bill that regulates the use of land lots deemed important to national security. Under the bill, “watch zones” – remote border islands as well as areas within around 1 kilometer of SDF facilities, U.S. military bases, nuclear power plants and other important places – will be designated where the government is authorized to look into the name and nationality of owners of land lots and buildings and how they are being used. The bill would also allow the government to halt radio interference or other problematic activities in the zones. Non-compliance would be punishable with up to two years or a fine of up to ¥2 million, or both. [Japan Times]

 

1 June 2021

Japan’s government urged to revise gender recognition law

(dql) Human Rights Watch has released a report which calls on the Japanese government to change its Gender Identity Disorder Special Cases Act, the country’s transgender recognition law, which the international human rights organization criticizes as “abusive and outdated,” as it puts heavy barriers on transgender people seeking legal recognition of their transgender identity, including sterilization surgery and a psychiatric diagnosis. 

The report comes amid heightened efforts of activists in Japan to push for the passage of an equality act, that would remove such barriers as well as legalize same-sex marriage. However, the legislation faces resistance from conservative members within Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). [Human Rights Watch] [Mainichi News]

In a related development, the LDP has decided to suspend the submission to the current Diet session of a cross-party bill that aims at promoting awareness among the public of LGBT people and that was agreed on with the main opposition party Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan earlier this month. The decision was made due to the failure to reach a consensus within the party’s General Council. Some conservative factions strongly objected the bill’s phrase “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is unacceptable,” arguing that the undefined scope of discrimination could result in frequent lawsuits.  [Japan Times] [AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4]

 

1 June 2021

Japan: New law to stop sex offender teachers from returning to job 

(dql) Japan’s parliament approved a bill aimed at preventing educators, who have been dismissed on grounds of sexual misconduct at work, from returning to their job. Inter alia, the new law allows prefectural education boards to reject the license renewal applications of offending teachers if they find such a teacher not having appropriately rehabilitated. So far, it has been possible for those who were dismissed to have a license reissued three years after their discharge for sexual misconduct. 

The new law also authorizes the central government to set up a nationwide database of teachers dismissed due to misconduct. [Mainichi News]

1 June 2021

Japan faces record low number of pregnancies 

(dql) Latest data on pregnancies have deepened the government’s worries about Japan’s rapidly aging population and surging social security spending heavily burdening the budget. 

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the number of pregnancies in 2020 reached a new low, with 872,227 pregnancies recorded last year, down 4.8% from 2019. This number, in turn suggests a number of babies born in 2021 below 800.000. The annual number of newborns sank below 900,000 for the first time in 2019. The number is likely to further decline to below 850,000 in 2020. [Japan Times]

 

25 May 2021

Japan to drop 1% GDP limit of annual defense spending to cope with China

(dql) Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi has signaled a shift in the country’s defense spending saying in an interview that Tokyo is ready to “allocate the funding we need to protect our nation,” indicating to give up Japan’s longstanding 1% GDP cap on annual defense spending in response to a security environment that he described as “changing rapidly with heightened uncertainty.” Citing advancements of China’s military in new areas of warfare such as space, cyber and electromagnetics, he acknowledged the need to boost the country’s defense capabilities “at a radically different pace than in the past.” [Japan Today]

Since the 1990s, Japan’s defense budget has consistently not exceeded 1% of the country’s GDP, with the only exception in 2010 due the impact of the financial crisis. The 2020 defense spending stood at 49.1 billion USD, equaling 1.0 % of the country’s GDP. [Sputnik News] [SIPRI]

Meanwhile, four Chinese coast guard ships entered on Monday Japanese territorial waters off the Senkaku Islands, which controlled by Japan and claimed by China and Taiwan. It was 16th intrusion in this year, coming on the heels of last week’s live-fire drills conducted by Navy fleets of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attached to the Eastern, Northern and Southern Theatre Commands. [NHK] [South China Morning Post]

For an account of the current status of efforts of the Japanese Defense Ministry to build new “Aegis Equipped Ships”, see Yoshihiro Inaba in [Naval News].

25 May 2021

Japan: Ruling party approves LGBT anti-discrimination bill

(dql) Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) approved a cross-party bill which aims at promoting greater awareness among the public of sexual minorities in country. Based on the outline laid out by the LDP panel, the bill contains the phrase “discrimination is unacceptable” which has been controversial within the party, reflected for example in a remark of LDP lawmaker Kazuo Yana in a party meeting warning that LGBT community members behave against the preservation of the species, while sexual minority couples were not “productive.” The remark caused a backlash among opposition parties and rights activists. Its inclusion in the bill indicates that the party has met requests the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and others. 

Although a number of municipalities across Japan offer partnerships between members of the LGBT community, marriage is not legally recognized in the country. [Mainichi News] [Channel News Asia]

In related latest development, a joint defense panel of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party approved a draft proposal for the government which suggests – among other – to “drastically” increase the country’s defense budget in the wake of increased concerns over China’s security threats in the East and South China seas. [Mainichi News]

 

25 May 2021

Thailand ready to increase multilateral cooperation for post-pandemic world, says Prime Minister Prayut

(pr) Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha has expressed his country’s readiness join efforts to boost regional and global economic cooperation in a post-COVID-19 world. The prime minister was attending “The Future of Asia” conference, an annual gathering that brings together political, economic and academic leaders from the Asia-Pacific, through video channel. [Future of Asia]

Specifically, the Thai leader emphasized the strong partnership between Thailand and Japan. He said Thailand is ready to improve the business environment for foreign investors and act on recommendations of Japanese businesses in Thailand. He said Thailand will also expand trade and investment ties with Japan, in addition to relations under the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement and the ASEAN-Japan Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Partnership. [Bangkok Post]

When touching on a potential Thai membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Prayut said that his government was ready to consider making the move. Earlier this month, the cabinet gave itself time until June 24 to consider a potential membership of the country in the CPTPP, the second extension after a three-months deadline announced earlier in February expired [see AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2].

In addition, he said Thailand will host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting next year and will initiate talks on the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific plan.

25 May 2021

Philippines, Japan to increase cooperation

(lp) Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga informed Philippine President Duterte during a phone call that Japan is slated to release a loan for 20 billion Japanese Yen which will help finance the Philippines’ pandemic response measures. Moreover, Duterte thanked Suga for Japan’s funding of subway and railway projects in the Philippines. Furthermore, the two leaders agreed to cooperate toward the maintenance of peace and stability in the East and South China Sea. [Manila Bulletin]

At the virtual Nikkei Future of Asia Conference on May 21, Duterte encouraged Japanese firms to invest more in the Philippine agricultural sector, public health system, agro-industrial business corridors. [Philippine Star]

18 May 2021

Japan, US, France joint military exercises 

(dql) Hosted by Japan, naval and ground forces of Japan, the US and France last week conducted the six-day exercise “ARC21,” in southwestern Japan and the East China Sea.

ARC 21 included urban warfare and amphibious operation exercises – marking the first time for the three countries to conduct such exercises on Japanese soil. On Saturday they were joined by Australia in an expanded naval drill involving 11 warships in the East China Sea. [ABC News] [Mainichi]

The exercise comes at a time when concerns are rising in Japan over Chinese activities in and around Japanese-claimed waters surrounding the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which Beijing also claims and calls Diaoyu.

France’s participation reflects an increased presence of European powers in the region. A German warship is due to visit Japan in the summer, while a British Royal Navy task force centred on HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to take part in exercises with Japanese units later in the year. [South China Morning Post]

18 May 2021

Japan: Laws to enhance digitalization of the country approved 

(dql) Japan’s parliaments has approved a set of law, in move to create a new government agency by September to speed up digitalization across the country. The new agency will be staffed with some 500 officials, with around 120 of them expected to be recruited from the business industry. It will be headed by a Cabinet minister appointed be Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

Further measures under the new legislation include upgrading computer systems at the central and local governments, introducing nationwide common personal information protection rules, and promoting digitalization in the private sector, with Suga to appoint a Cabinet minister overseeing the agency and also a top administrative official, who will probably be chosen from the private sector. [Mainichi News]

 

18 May 2021

Japan: Government scraps contentious reform of immigration law

(dql) Japan’s government has announced the withdrawal of an amendment bill that aims at revising rules on how to accommodate foreign national facing deportation. The decision comes amid growing criticism of the immigration and asylum system, following the death of a Sri Lankan women during her detention at an immigration facility. Her death is widely seen among critics as evidence of Japan’s “opaque and capricious bureaucracy with nearly unchecked power over foreigners caught inside it.”

The government’s reform bill, submitted to the parliament in April, has prompted strong objections of opposition lawmakers and activists arguing that it violates the principle of non-refoulement as it only allows the deportation procedure to be halted twice in the course of the refugee status application. [Kyodo News] [Mainichi News] [New York Times]

18 May 2021

South Korea requests IMO involvement in conflict over Fukushima wastewater

(nm) South Korea is stepping up efforts to explore means of cooperation with regards to the planned release of wastewater from Japan’s Fukushima power plant into the sea. Last week, the Ocean Ministry announced it had asked the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to examine ways of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear monitoring body, to ensure the safety of the release. Additionally, a media report said last week that Seoul is seeking to establish a joint consultative body with Tokyo in order to discuss the release. Tokyo is allegedly reviewing and leaning toward accepting the proposal. 

In April, Japan had finalized its decision to discharge the wastewater of the wrecked Fukushima power plant, starting in 2023. The decision triggered fierce protest by neighbouring countries over an alleged lack of proper consultations and concerns over the safety of the proceedings. Tokyo claims the release is inevitable as storage space will run out in 2022 and says it will be safe considering the water will be filtered and diluted. 

The plans had only added to already strained ties between the nations over wartime issues and economic tensions. According to diplomatic sources, South Korea’s chief of intelligence had recently visited Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in order to improve relations. [Korea Herald 1] [Korea Herald 2] [Korea Times]

 

11 May 2021

EU and India to boost trade, Indo-Pacific partnership

(lm) The European Union and India have agreed to resume long-stalled talks on a free trade deal, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on May 8. Brussel and New Delhi will also launch negotiations on reciprocal investments and on the protection of so-called geographical indications. [South China Morning Post]

Earlier on May 8, the first EU-Indian Leaders’ Meeting brought together all 27 heads of the EU member states and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Considering that previous EU-India summits have involved only the Indian prime minister and the heads of the European Commission and the European Council, the recent summit signals the bloc’s renewed interest in the Indo-Pacific region. [Reuters]

Last month, the EU Council asked the European Commission and high representatives to draw up the bloc’s Indo-Pacific strategy by September this year. In doing so, the Council unveiled the strategy’s main thrust, which included exploring closer economic ties with India and pledging to foster a rules-based order with “free and open maritime supply routes in full compliance with international law”, without naming China.

Earlier last week, the EU also said that efforts to ratify the proposed EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) with China had been suspended after Beijing imposed sanctions on several high-profile members of the European Parliament, three members of national parliaments, two EU committees, and several China-focused European academics.

For a comprehensive examination of the decision, please consider Chris Devonshire-Ellis’ comment for [China Briefing].

11 May 2021

G7 ministers support North Korean denuclearization 

(nm) The foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) countries last week called on North Korea to return to denuclearization talks and to engage in inter-Korean dialogue, supporting a strategy set out in the US Biden administration’s recent North Korea policy review.

In a joint statement issued at the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ meeting in London, the diplomats called “on the DPRK to refrain from provocative actions and to engage in a diplomatic process with the explicit goal of denuclearization,” further committing “to the goal of complete, verifiable and irreversible abandonment of all of the DPRK’s unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs in accordance with relevant UN Security Council resolutions.” The G7 further criticized the North’s humanitarian situation and the lack of information about the conditions in the isolated country. 

The statement comes after the Biden administration recently announced having completed its long-awaited North Korea policy review. Although details of it have not yet been disclosed, the White House stated it would be a “calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy.” Like the G7, South Korean President Moon Jae-in also reacted positively to the US policy, saying it would enable Pyongyang to begin a dialogue, adding it is “on the same page as our government.” He also declared he would use the upcoming May 21 summit with Biden to “explore various ways that can entice the North to come forward for talks.” [Korea Herald] [Korea Times]

After Pyongyang and Washington had at first seemed to make some unexpected progress in their relations under the Trump administration, both sides have been in a diplomatic stalemate since the failed Hanoi summit in 2019. Tensions have flared up again since the inauguration of the Biden administration as Pyongyang tested short-range missiles in March and repeatedly issued verbal threats against Seoul and Washington, while rejecting dialogue offers.

This week, Washington and Seoul will hold biannual defense talks to discuss regional security, including policy coordination on North Korea, as well as the transition of wartime operational control (OPCON). [Yonhap]

11 May 2021

South Korea-Japan relations: Foreign ministers agree on ”future-oriented” bilateral relations 

(nm) More than twenty years after Japan and South Korea had promised to build a “future-oriented relationship” based on cooperation and historical reconciliation in the Japan-Republic of Korea Joint Declaration [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan], the two nations have yet again agreed to establish “future-oriented” bilateral ties. In their first in-person meeting and on the sidelines of the G7 summit in London, Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong of South Korea and his counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi agreed to closely cooperate for the peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia and the world as well as in consideration of their efforts to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Relations between the two nations have recently been frosty and plummeted after Japan had announced its plans to release Fukushima wastewater into the ocean, with the South Korean government claiming the decision had been made without full consultation with neighbouring countries. The issue only added to historic tensions over wartime sexual slavery, a recent South Korean Supreme Court ruling ordering Japanese companies to compensate victims of wartime forced labour, in addition to Japanese export controls on key materials vital for South Korea’s semiconductor and display industry.

The latest talks, however, also provide a glimmer of hope with both sides stressing the earnest wish for communication. The United States is also currently seeking to bring the two sides together in order to trilaterally cooperate on North Korean denuclearization efforts and counter China. In a prior meeting, also on the sidelines of the G7 summit, the three respective foreign ministers had similarly reaffirmed their commitment to concerted trilateral cooperation to dismantle Pyongyang’s weapons programme and to push for the adherence to UN Security Council resolutions. [Nikkei Asia] [Korea Times]

11 May 2021

Japan-UK relations: Foreign Ministers share concerns over China

(dql) In a meeting on the sidelines of last week’s gathering of the Group of Seven, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and his British counterpart Dominic Raab affirmed security cooperation to promotie a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” and shared “grave concerns” about China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo in regional waters and the human rights situation in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Both Ministers also agreed on deepening cooperation in battling climate change.

Motegi, furthermore, welcomed Britain’s scheduled dispatch of the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth and its strike group to Japan and the Indo-Pacific later in the year. [Japan Times]

 

11 May 2021

G7 pull no punches on China at latest meeting

(dql) The Group of Seven (G7) has expressed a hardened stance towards China on multiple fronts at their first face-to-face meeting in two years in London last week. In their joint statement after the meeting, the foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, along with the High Representative of the European Union, called on China to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms,” in accordance with the country’s obligations under international and national law, adding continued deep concerns over human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang and in Tibet.

Furthermore, the group criticized the erosion of democratic elements in Hong Kong’s recently adopted electoral reform as well as over “practices that undermine […] free and fair economic systems, including on trade, investment and development finance.”

With regards to Taiwan, the group expressed its support for “Taiwan’s meaningful participation in World Health Organisation forums and the World Health Assembly,” as well as its “serious concerns about reports of militarisation, coercion, and intimidation,” in the South China Sea, stressing “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.” [EEAS]

It was the first time that the EU and its leading member states aligned with the US over the highly sensitive issue of Taiwan, and comes amid warnings of high-ranking US military officials of a takeover of the island by China by force by 2027 or sooner. [Politico] [The Guardian]

Grant Newsham in [Center for Security Policy], raises the question whether China – in an assault on Taiwan – could follow Russian President Vladimir Putin’s example of the seizure of “large swaths of Ukraine with a hybrid technique utilizing both local insurgents and military forces,” in 2014.

Taiwan, meanwhile, has not been invited to participate in the World Health Assembly (WHA) later this month May 24 to June 1. It is the fifth straight year in which the country has been excluded from the forum. [Focus Taiwan]

The decision over an invitation lies with 194 member states of the World Health Organization.

11 May 2021

Myanmar: Junta bans satellite television, charges Japanese journalist under fake news law

(lm/lf) Myanmar’s state-run broadcaster Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) announced a ban on satellite television receivers on May 4, alleging that outside broadcasts encouraged people to commit treason and threatened national security. [Reuters]

With mobile data service, the most common way of connecting to the internet, largely cut off, Myanmar has increasingly appeared headed back to the state of isolation that preceded a decade of democratic reforms. Since early April, authorities have also confiscated satellite dishes used to access outside new broadcasts. [Committee to Protect Journalists]

Separately, authorities on May 3 charged a detained Japanese journalist under a criminal provision that penalizes the dissemination of information that could agitate or cause security forces or state officials to mutiny. The journalist had been arrested in mid-April; if convicted, he could face up to three years in prison. [The Straits Times]

At this stage, at least 40 journalists are currently imprisoned in Myanmar, according to preliminary investigations by independent watchdogs, the majority detained during newsroom raids or while covering anti-coup street protests.

 

11 May 2021

Japan to set to pass law on national referendum on constitutional amendment  

(dql) A bill to amend the national referendum law on revision of the Constitution is likely to pass parliament by the end of the current session through mid-June, after the pro-revision ruling party agreed to accept the opposition’s demand to tweak it.

The debate over the bill had been stalled for around three years as the main opposition party has been insisting on restrictions on campaign advertising and finance. But the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan has opposed the bill, which includes steps to improve access to polling places by installing them at railway stations and commercial facilities, citing the need to restrict TV, radio and online commercials on the issue. The CDPJ has argued without the restrictions, voting would be influenced by campaigners’ funds and could not ensure fairness.

In force since 1947, Japan’s so-called pacifist Constitution, has never been amended. Any proposed revision needs to be approved by a two-thirds majority in both Diet chambers before the proposal can be put to a national referendum. The bill, which was approved Thursday at the House of Representatives’ Commission on the Constitution, is expected to be endorsed by the lower house plenary session next Tuesday and sent to the House of Councillors, according to lawmakers. [Mainichi]

11 May 2021

Japan: Demand for delay of Olympics heats up

(dql) The pressure on Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to cancel the Olympic Games over public health concerns amid rising Covid-19 infection numbers in Japan is mounting after an online petition calling for such a cancellation received more 200,000 signatures just two days after its launch. 

With less than three months until the opening of the Olympics, Tokyo is currently under a state of emergency, which is expected to be extended beyond its current May 11 end date. Furthermore, Japan’s vaccine rollout only started for those aged 65 and older in April, making it impossible for much of the general public to be vaccinated by July 23, the start of the Olympics. [Mainichi]

4 May 2021

Japan, India, Australia, formally launch Supply Chain Resilience Initiative

(lm/dql) Against the larger backdrop of simmering trade and political tensions, the trade minister of Japan, India and Australia on April 27 formally launched the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) in the region. [South China Morning Post]

During the first phase, the three nations will share best practices on supply chain resilience, hold investment promotion and buyer-seller matching events for diversification of their supply chains. To quickly take forward the trilateral effort, the ministers explored convening the Trilateral Ministerial Meeting, once in four months.

After the coronavirus pandemic had brought to the fore the importance of diversification away from trade and supply chain dependence, informal talks had been ongoing since Japan first broached the idea with India in July of last year [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]. In September, then, the three nations initiated high-level consultations [see AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2].

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

See in this regard, John Blaxland and Ashok Sharma in [East Asia Forum], who argue that a strategy of the Quad focusing solely on security “is not going to be enough to significantly alter the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific or deter further abrasive assertiveness” on China’s side,” and suggest that the Quad has to  “venture into the realm of trade and investment with a focus on environmental issues to address the needs of states buffeted by growing great power competition.”

China’s Foreign Ministry was quick to criticize the initiative warning that “[a]rtificial industrial ‘transfer’ is an unrealistic approach that goes against the economic laws and can neither solve domestic problems nor do anything good to the stability of the global industrial and supply chains, or to the stable recovery of the world economy.” [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China]

4 May 2021

Japan: Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership ratified

(dql) Japan’s parliament approved the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s largest free trade deal, signed by 15 Asia-Pacific countries including besides Japan, Australia, China, New Zealand, South Korea and the ten ASEAN member states. It covers about 30% of the world’s gross domestic product, trade and population and eliminates tariffs on 91% of goods while providing common rules on investment and intellectual property aimed at promoting free trade.

The pact will come into effect 60 days after it is ratified by six of the ASEAN members and three of the other countries. Thus far, Singapore and China are those other countries which have completed ratification procedures. 

The RCEP ratification marks Japan’s first trade deal involving both China and South Korea, the country’s largest and third biggest trade partners. The Japanese government expects that the trade pact will increase the country’s GDP by 2.7% and create 570,000 jobs. [Japan Times]

 

4 May 2021

Japan set to tighten rules on digital advertisements

(dql) Japan’s government has announced plans to develop ordinances to require technology giants which provide digital advertisement distribution systems to implement measures for preventing ad fraud. This includes, among others, requiring major IT companies to accept third-party assessment of online advertising performance and effectiveness as well as the disclosure of information on wrongdoings such levying illegal charges on advertisers. Furthermore, tech giants providing targeted advertising are urged to provide transparency in collecting data from consumers by disclosing what kind of personal information are obtained as well as the conditions under which the data are used when such targeted ads are displayed.

The announcement comes after the Act on Improvement of Transparency and Fairness in Trading on Specified Digital Platforms came into effect in February. Under the law, digital platform operators must disclose terms and conditions for the use of their platforms while taking certain measures to enhance mutual understanding of digital transactions. [Japan Times] [Japan Times 2]

4 May 2021

Japan: Four years in prison sought for ex-justice minister in vote buying case

(dql) Japanese prosecutors have demanded a four-year prison term for former Justice Minister Kawai Katsuyuki accused of bribing some 100 local politicians in Hiroshima Prefecture to help his wife, Kawai Anri, winning a seat in the 2019 Upper House election.

Reversing earlier pleadings of innocence, Kawai conceded the vote buying in March. [Mainichi]

 

4 May 2021

Japan to equip Philippine military

(nd) Japan supplied self-defense equipment to the Philippines to strengthen defense ties in the wake of facing an ever more aggressive China in the East and South China Sea. In 2015, Japan altered its foreign aid charter, enabling the government to support foreign armed forces in noncombat areas through official development aid, including for disaster relief, infrastructure building and coast guard activities. August last year saw a $100 million agreement to enable Mitsubishi Electric Corp. to export an air radar system to the Philippines armed forces. The latest deal has an estimated ODA of 120 million yen ($1.1 million). Upon the completion of the delivery, trainings by Japanese forces will take place. [Jakarta Post]

 

 

4 May 2021

South Korea-Japan-US relations: Military chiefs discuss cooperation on North Korea

(nm) South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Won In-choul and his counterparts Gen. Mark Milley of the US and Gen. Koji Yamazaki of Japan held trilateral talks in Hawaii last week, affirming their commitment to strengthen their cooperation in response to North Korea’s missile and nuclear programmes. They further discussed the “importance of promoting a rules-based international order in the region.” 

During the meeting, the US official asserted the US would “[remain] prepared to provide extended deterrence,” and reaffirmed its “ironclad commitment” to defending the US allies. General Won emphasized the importance of the cooperation for the peace on the Korean Peninsula as well as in the Northeast Asia region, while Japan’s official stressed cooperation regarding the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions. [Korea Times]

The talks were held on the sidelines of a change-of-command ceremony at the US Indo-Pacific Command, with Navy Adm. John Aquilino succeeding outgoing commander Navy Adm. Philip Davidson, and amid efforts of the Biden administration to re-strengthen the US alliance with Japan and South Korea to counter China in Asia. 

Davidson, who looks back on a 39-year long career in the US Navy, said during the ceremony: ““Make no mistake, the Communist Party of China seeks to supplant the idea of a free and open international order with a new order, one with Chinese characteristics, one where Chinese national power is more important than international law.” [Korea Herald] [Stars and Stripes

 

27 April 2021

South Korean court sides with Japan in wartime sexual slavery case 

(nm) A South Korean court last week ruled in favour of the Japanese government in a lawsuit filed by 20 plaintiffs, including eleven victims of wartime sexual slavery. The Seoul District Court dismissed the case citing sovereign immunity, contradicting an earlier court ruling from January that mandated the Japanese government to compensate the victims who are euphemistically referred to as comfort women. The plaintiffs announced they would appeal last week’s decision.

The rulings are part of the victims’ effort to hold the Japanese government legally accountable for forcing or luring young women into working in brothels run by the Japanese military before and during the Second World War. The January decision was seen as a landmark victory as it was the first case won by survivors. The judge argued Japan could not claim exemption from a case involving “anti-humanity acts systematically planned and perpetrated by the Japanese Empire.” Tokyo had rejected the ruling, referring to a 2015 agreement under which Japan acknowledged its responsibility, apologized, and set up a fund for the survivors. The judge in last week’s lawsuit, on the contrary, cited the agreement and warned that “diplomatic clashes become inevitable” if courts make exceptions from the principle of national sovereignty. 

Experts, however, have cautioned not to expect dramatic changes in Seoul-Tokyo relations which are at their lowest in years. This week, the foreign ministry again called in a Japanese diplomat due to renewed claims by Japan over the islands of Dokdo/Takeshima in its annual foreign policy paper. The United States are currently urging both countries to resolve their conflict and improve ties in order to effectively cooperate on the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, as well as on China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific. [The New York Times] [Korea Times 1] [Korea Times 2] [Korea Herald]

27 April 2021

Japan to host first joint military exercise with the US and France

(dql) Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi announced that Japan will hold a joint military drill with United States and French troops in the country’s southwest from May 11 to 17, in a first large-scale exercise in Japan involving ground troops from all three countries. [France 24]

The announcement comes as Tokyo seeks to deepen defense cooperation beyond its key US ally to counter Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, and a week after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s visit to the White House during which he and US President Biden agreed to work together to “take on the challenges from China and on issues like the East China Sea, the South China Sea, as well as North Korea, to ensure a future of a free and open Indo Pacific.” Both leaders also agreed to “oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea,” as well as “China’s unlawful maritime claims and activities in the South China Sea.” [AiR No. 16, April/2021, 3]

Meanwhile, the British ambassador to Japan, announced that on its maiden deployment the UK’s HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier will lead a flotilla of Royal Navy ships through Asian waters on port visits to Japan and South Korea. The carrier strike group will include the Queen Elizabeth and 18 F-35B stealth fighters, two destroyers, two frigates and two support ships. It will be joined US vessels as well as a Dutch frigate and conduct exercises with forces from Japan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France, the UAE, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Israel, India, Oman and South Korea. [Aljazeera]

 

27 April 2021

Japan-China relations: Tokyo accuses Beijing of being behind cyberattack

(dql) Tokyo police are investigating cyberattacks on about 200 Japanese companies and research organisations, including the country’s space agency, by a hacking group believed to be linked to the Chinese military. [Channel News Asia]

The accusation comes short after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and US President Joe Biden at their meeting in the White House earlier this month agreed on “the importance of strengthening bilateral cybersecurity and information security,” one among many areas of cooperation to jointly respond to challenges China is posing to their countries. [White House, USA]

27 April 2021

Japan: China threat looms large in latest foreign policy report

(dql) The Japanese Foreign Ministry this Tuesday released its latest Diplomatic Bluebook, the annual report on Japan’s foreign policy and international diplomacy. While calling ties with Chinas “one of the most important bilateral relations,” the report concludes that China’s transparency-lacking expansion of military capabilities as well as its growing unilateral actions to alter the status quo in Asian waters is posing “strong concerns” in the region and to the international community. It, furthermore, asserts that Beijing’s military build-up and activities in both, the East China Sea and South China Sea “have become a serious security concern,” and criticizes China’s Coast Guard Law, claiming that Chinese police vessels around the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands entered “Japanese territorial waters” in violation of international law. It also expressed concerns over human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region and the crackdown on Hong Kong. Meanwhile, the Japan-US alliance is said to continue “to serve as the cornerstone of Japan’s diplomatic and security policies,” with its significance growing more than ever amid growing uncertainties in the region’s security environment. [Mainichi]

China’s Foreign Ministry was quick to hit back, accusing Tokyo of smearing Beijing’s reputation with “malicious attacks,” as well as of interfering into China’s internal affairs, and urged Tokyo “to redress its mistakes.” [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China]

 

27 April 2021

China, Japan, South Korea reaffirm commitment Biden-hosted climate summit

(dql) At last week’s virtual Leaders’ Climate Summit, hosted by US President Joe Biden and attended by 40 head of states and governments, China, Japan, and South Korea countries reaffirmed their commitment to fighting climate change.

Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated China’s climate-related goals of peaking carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and becoming carbon neutral before 2060. He also announced that coal-fired power generation projects will be strictly controlled, while the increase in coal consumption will be strictly limited over the 14th Five-Year Plan period until 2025 before being phased down in the 15th Five-Year Plan period. [Xinhua]

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced new, more ambitious targets for Japan of reducing carbon emissions, now set at 46% from levels of 2013, a rise of more than 70% compared with the government’s previous goal of 26%. [Nikkei Asia]

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, meanwhile, vowed that South Korea will cease state-backed financing of coal-fired power plants overseas and announced plans to strengthen the country’s emissions reduction commitment under the Paris agreement by raising its current target to reduce emissions by 24.4% by 2030 from 2017 levels. [Bloomberg]

For a critical assessment of a rebound in global coal demand in 2021, with a rapid increase in coal-fired power generation in Asia accounting for 80% of the rebound, see the recently released Global Energy Review 2021 of the [International Energy Agency]. 

Hosting the summit, US President Biden underscored his administration’s efforts to reclaim US leadership in global climate governance following former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from international climate commitments.

Biden warned in his summit opening speech that climate action was “a moral imperative, an economic imperative,” but asserted that it was at the same time “an opportunity to create millions of good-paying jobs around the world in innovative sectors – jobs that bring greater quality of life, greater dignity, to the people who are performing those jobs in every nation.”

Confronted in the US with a resilient opposition of the Republican Party to his climate-related policies, this remark is directed not only towards the leaders attending the summit and the international community, but also and foremost towards his domestic critics.

As for the US emission reduction commitment, Biden said that the US seeks to have greenhouse gases dropped by 50% by the end of the decade from 2005 levels, almost nearly doubling the reductions that the Obama administration had committed to in the Paris climate accord. [White House] [The Hill]

27 April 2021

Japan: Protest against government’s immigration reform bill

(dql) Organized by refugee lawyers and activists, some 100 people participated in a march in Tokyo to protest against a bill to revise Japan’s immigration law currently under review in the Diet.

Aimed at solving the issue of long-term detentions of asylum seekers who are facing deportation, the bill, submitted by the government, suggests the establishment of a “supervisory measures” mechanism, under which foreigners who have applied for refugee status or those appealing a decision may be released after paying a maximum deposit 27,500 USD, with supporters, designated by immigration authorities, monitoring their situation and reporting back. 

The protesters, however, criticize the bill for providing insufficient protection of asylum seekers, as it allows only two applications for refugee status on the same grounds and fails to set a maximum detention period. It, furthermore, introduces penalties for foreigners who refuse to return to their countries of origin, including up to one year in jail for physically resisting deportation while on an airplane. [Mainichi] [AiR No. 16, April/2021, 3]

For a sketch of the history of Japan’s immigration and refugee policy, see Daisuke Akimoto in [The Diplomat] who points to the country’s low refugee acceptance rate of 0.4% in 2019, compared with the US (29.6%) and Germany (25.9%).  

 

27 April 2021

Japan: Bill to enable simpler court steps to identify cyberbullies approved

(dql) In a unanimous vote, Japan’s parliament approved a bill to set up a simpler court procedure to help victims of cyberbullying to obtain the identification of individuals who made defamatory posts online. Expected to enter into force by fall next year, the new law allows cyberbullying victims to go through only one court proceeding to identify their harassers, saving them time and costs related to such requests.

Under the current law, people in general must go through at least two court proceedings – one against social media operators and the other against internet service providers to obtain the desired information. [Mainichi]

27 April 2021

Japan: Elections results a significant blow to Prime Minister Suga

(dql) Marking a painful blow to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, all the candidate of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lost against their contenders in three elections respectively, including a re-held House of Councillors election in the Hiroshima constituency, an upper house by-election in the Nagano constituency and a House of Representatives by-election in a district in Hokkaido.

This outcome of the first national elections since Suga took office in September last year is widely seen as reflecting wide discontent among the population with the government’s coronavirus response as well as scandals that bought about two of the elections. Approval rating of Suga’s cabinet has plummeted from 70% at the time when he assumed power to below 40% in February and has since hovered around that level.  

 

27 April 2021

Laos: Regional countries to fight for influence over China

(nd) Japan, Thailand and Vietnam have moved this year to offer new help or reaffirm the benefits of previous aid to Laos. In an effort to reinforce their respective bilateral ties, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam have reached to Laos to give aid. Japan aims to advance a strategic partnership, has offered about $1.8 million to open Covid-19 vaccine storage facilities, and announced to support upgrades to international airports. Thailand also vowed to support Laos with the pandemic and has helped in education, agriculture and health. Vietnam has developed a 2021-2030 cooperation strategy and a five-year cooperation agreement.

Development aid in total has reached up to 15% of Lao GDP, helping the economy to grow at an annual average of 5.8% during the past five years. Chinese payments to Laos have reached $11 billion per year, with financing and investment making the sum even higher. Therefore, countries in the region hope to lessen China’s influence, mostly due to its domination of the Mekong River and its flow. To mitigate this, the US last year launched the aid plan Mekong-U.S. Partnership. Japan and Vietnam have additional quarrels with China over the South China Sea. While those countries aim at pushing back China’s influence on Laos, the latter is mostly dependent on China, to which it owed $ 250 million for the construction of a 400-kilometer, $5.9 billion China-invested railway, according to the International Monetary Fund. [Voice of America]

 

20 April 2021

Japan and the coup in Myanmar

(nd) The Myanmar military has detained a Japanese journalist in Yangon on Sunday. The Japanese government is seeking his immediate release. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group, 737 people have been killed by security forces since the coup and 3,229 remain in detention. [Reuters]

Japan did experience criticism by Western governments and media outlets for its slow response to the coup, although the government was quick and frequent to denounce it. Moreover, since Japan is gravely concerned with Myanmar possibly drifting more into China’s orbit, they are aware of the geostrategic significance of Myanmar in the region. Japan was a central actor within the military’s political reforms and opening up of Myanmar in 2011, which was prompted by fears of a growing influence of China. Japan facilitated diplomatic contacts with the West and — upon the condition of further democratization — provided a loan to Myanmar to clear its debts with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, in order for them to start development aid. Additionally, Japan has invested much in the partnership with ASEAN, both for economic reasons and due to similar security issues, such as the South China Sea. [East Asia Forum]

20 April 2021

South Korea: Japan’s decision to release Fukushima wastewater triggers protests 

(nm) Adding to already strained relations between South Korea and Japan, the Japanese government last week decided to release wastewater stored in tanks at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean. The decision sparked a wave of protests in South Korea, both by civic groups and politicians.

In an immediate response, Seoul has called the decision “utterly intolerable” and summoned the Japanese Ambassador Koichi Aiboshi, while President Moon Jae-in ordered his aides to review the possibility of legal actions against the decision, including taking the case to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. [The New York Times] [Korea Herald 1]

This week, South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, voiced more conciliatory tones, saying that South Korea had little reason to object to Tokyo’s plans if the release follows related International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards. He also urged Japan to meet three conditions: providing sufficient scientific evidence and sharing information; having more consultations in advance; and guaranteeing South Korea’s participation in IAEA’s safety verification process. [Korea Times 1]

South Korea’s oceans minister nominee, added that the government is preparing “detailed countermeasures,” to protect the public from potential harm caused by the wastewater release, but made clear that the “top priority is to have the Japanese government retract the decision.” [Yonhap]

Meanwhile, several civic groups have also condemned Japan’s plans, with some of them protesting in front of the Japanese embassy. A group of progressive university students staged a four-day sit-in, while merchants warned of the effects on the Korean fisheries industry. [Korea Times 2] [Korea Herald 2]

20 April 2021

Japan-US relations: Biden and Suga demonstrate unity in challenging China’s security threats

(dql) Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga last week met US President Joe Biden to discuss an array of issues of US-Japan relations in Washington, with China topping the agenda. It was Biden’s first face-to-face White House summit since taking office, signaling Japan’s central role in US efforts to face down Beijing.

Demonstrating unity in responding to China’s security threats, Biden announced in a press conference after the meeting that both leaders affirmed “ironclad support for the U.S.-Japanese alliance and for our shared security,” and both sides’ commitment “to working together to take on the challenges from China and on issues like the East China Sea, the South China Sea, as well as North Korea, to ensure a future of a free and open Indo Pacific.” Biden and Suga vowed to “oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea,” and to object “China’s unlawful maritime claims and activities in the South China Sea .”

Further China-related concerns discussed at the meeting included Beijing’s increased military activities near Taiwan, its tightening grip on Hong Kong and the human rights situation of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang.

Marking what observers call Japan’s strongest political challenge to China, the joint statement contained for the first time since 1969, before Tokyo normalized ties with Beijing in 1972, a reference to Taiwan, stating that both sides “underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.” In another hit against China, the two leaders agreed to invest together in 5G, artificial intelligence and quantum computing and “affirmed their commitment to the security and openness of 5th generation (5G) wireless networks and concurred that it is important to rely on trustworthy vendors.” [White House 1] [White House 2] [South China Morning Post] [VoA]

 

20 April 2021

China, Taiwan lodge solemn representations over Japan’s decision to discharge nuclear wastewater

(zh) China has summoned Japan’s ambassador and lodged solemn representations over Tokyo’s “wrong decision” to discharge around 1.25 million tons of treated water that was used to cool melted fuel from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean. China’s foreign ministry accused Tokyo of “violation of international law”, criticizing Tokyo’s action as “extremely irresponsible”.

Similarly, Taiwan’s foreign ministry has also made a “solemn representation” to Japan after the island’s main opposition party Kuomingtang (KMT) urged the government to lodge a “solemn protest” instead of just expressing being “highly concerned.” [Reuters][Taiwan News]

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga defended his decision saying the release of the water was an “inevitable task” since the plant’s capacity to store the wastewater is expected to run out as early as the fall of 2022. He reassured that Japan would “take every measure to absolutely guarantee the safety of the treated water and address misinformation.” [New York Times]

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has endorsed Japan’s decision, saying it is “technically feasible and in line with international practice”. However, three United Nations human rights experts have expressed disappointment over Tokyo’s release of the water, criticizing it “imposes considerable risks” to human health and the environment. [CNBC][South China Morning Post] [UN News]

 

20 April 2021

Japan: Parliament reviews bill to reform immigration law

(dql) Japan’s Lower House is currently reviewing a bill to revise Japan’s strict Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act aimed at solving the issue of long-term detentions of asylum seekers who are facing deportation. Submitted by the government, the bill suggests the establishment of a “supervisory measures” mechanism, under which foreigners who have applied for refugee status or those appealing a decision may be released after paying a maximum deposit 27,500 USD, with supporters, designated by immigration authorities, monitoring their situation and reporting back. 

Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters took to the streets to rally against the bill, criticizing it for providing insufficient protection of asylum seekers, as it allows only two applications for refugee status on the same grounds, fails to set a maximum detention period, and introduces penalties for foreigners who refuse to return to their countries of origin, including up to one year in jail for physically resisting deportation while on an airplane. [Mainichi] [Kyodo News]

13 April 2021

Japan, Indonesia deepen defense cooperation

(nd) As part of “two plus two” security talks end of March, Japan and Indonesia reached an agreement for exports of Japanese defense equipment, mainly for air force navy, and mostly inspired by China’s growing aggression in the South China Sea.  Japan could deliver up to eight of Mogami-class stealth frigates to the Indonesian Navy, built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding at shipyards in Nagasaki and Tamano. Four of the vessels shall be delivered in late 2023 or early 2024, with the remaining four to be built by the state-run company PT PAL at its shipyard in Surabaya under a technology transfer agreement. The $3.6 billion worth deal is the largest ever arms deal between Indonesia and Japan and will enhance the Indonesian Navy’s long-range patrol capabilities. In 2020, Indonesia’s military spending jumped up sharply to $9.26 billion, a 19.8 percent increase from the year before, when it was the second-lowest in Southeast Asia.

As response to China’s expansive “nine-dash line” claim, which was rejected by an international tribunal ruling in 2016, the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) have started to boost its maritime defense. In light of recent tensions between China and the Philippines in the Whitsun Reef, which lies within the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Japan and Indonesia expressed their “grave concern over the continuation and escalation of an attempt to change the status quo by force”.  [The Diplomat]

13 April 2021

Japan-Germany relations: Foreign and Defense Ministers agree on expansion of military cooperation

(dql) In the first “2 plus 2” meeting between Japan and Germany, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi held online talks with their German counterparts Heiko Maas and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. The Ministers agreed to expand their countries’ military cooperation and to step up military equipment and technology transfers based on intelligence sharing pact signed in March. Both sides also discussed China’s territorial claims in the East and South China seas and shared “grave concern” over the situation in Hong Kong and the human rights conditions in Xinjiang region. Japan, furthermore, proposed conducting a joint naval exercise when a German frigate visits Asia later this year, after German government officials last month said that a German frigate would set sail for Asia in August and, on its way back would become the first German warship to cross the South China Sea since 2002. [ABC News] [Reuters]

In September last year, Germany adopted its policy guidelines for the Indo-Pacific region, signaling a “new page” in the country’s foreign policy and international relations.

Japan already holds “2 plus 2” talks with two other European powers, France and the UK. The security talks with Germany provide Japan an opportunity to further bolster its position vis-à-vis China with the European Union’s largest economy.

13 April 2021

Mixed reactions on Japan’s decision to release contaminated water into the sea

(dql) Japan has decided to gradually release tons of treated radioactive wastewater from the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the ocean over the next two years. [Japan Times]

While the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency expressed approval of the decision, calling it “in accordance with globally accepted nuclear safety standards” and “in line with international practice,” neighboring China, South Korea and Taiwan responded with strong opposition. Beijing decried the decision as “extremely irresponsible” and urged Tokyo to reverse the decision, adding that it “reserve[s] the right to respond further.” Similarly, South Korea expressed “strong regret,” and demanded “specific measures from Japan to ensure the safety of our people and prevent damage to the marine environment.” Taiwan also raised concerns and demanded that Tokyo complies with the terms of its memorandum of understanding with Taipei on nuclear energy information exchange, requiring it to provide information about dilution and expected flow direction before discharging the waste. [New York Times] [South China Morning Post] [Yonhap] [Taipei Times]

13 April 2021

Japan: Petition for LGBT anti-discrimination law submitted to government

(dql) A petition, signed by over 100.000 people, has been submitted to Japan’s government calling for the passage of an LGBT+ equality law before the commencement of the Olympic Games on July 23. 

The petition comes after LGBT+ campaigners struck a symbolic victory when a Japanese court last month ruled that Japan’s failure to recognize same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. 

A bill to legalize same-sex marriages was brought to Japan’s parliament by opposition parties in 2019 but failed to progress after it failed to win the backing of conservative lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). [Japan Today] [AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4]

13 April 2021

Japan: Lawmakers begin weighing bill to sanction Uyghur human rights abuses

(dql) In a bipartisan move, Japanese lawmakers of both ruling and opposition parties have launched a group to work out and push for legislation similar to the US Magnitsky Act which would close a legal loophole and enable Japan to impose sanctions on countries over human rights abuses. [Kyodo News]

The legislative move comes short before Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s visit to the US this week, where he is expected to discuss with US President Joe Biden the question of Japan joining in imposing sanctions on China over what the US calls a genocide against the Uighur minority in Xinjiang. Thus far, Japan has shied away from imposing economic sanctions, citing its lack of a legal framework for such action.

For cautions against too high hopes for a more confrontative approach of Japan towards China on the US side, see Ben Ascione in [East Asia Forum].

6 April 2021

Japan-China relations: Foreign Ministers clash over disputed islands and Xinjiang in telephone talk

(dql) Ahead of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s visit to the US for talks with US President Biden next week, where both leaders are expected to extensively discuss China’s assertive moves in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi held a telephone talk on Monday, which according to Japan’s Foreign Ministry was requested by Beijing.

In the conversation Motegi urged China to address human rights issues concerning the Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, as well as to stop its intrusions into Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. [Kyodo News]

In response, Wang called on Japan to show “basic respect” for China’s internal affairs and warned Japan against sanctioning China over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Suga has come under pressure to join other major democracies in imposing sanctions on China over human-rights violations, but has thus far shied away from bowing to this pressure. Wang also reiterated China’s stance on the Diaoyu Islands and South China Sea and reminded Motegi of Japan’s obligations to fulfill the 1978 Japan-China Treaty of Peace and Friendship. [CGTN] [Bloomberg Quint]

The phone conversation came shortly after Japan sent a destroyer and patrol aircraft to gather information and monitor the movements a Chinese carrier group – including the aircraft carrier Liaoning, one Renhai class stealth guided missile destroyer, two Luyang III class guided missile destroyers, one Jiangkai II multi-role frigate and one Fuyu class fast combat support ship – which was spotted passing the waterway between Okinawa and Miyako Island and heading towards the Pacific on Saturday morning. [South China Morning Post]

6 April 2021

Japan: Low rank in Global Gender Index 2021

(dql) In the Global Gender Gap Index 2021, recently announced by the World Economic Forum, Japan ranks at the 120th place out of 156 countries, making it the worst country among major advanced economies. In terms of political empowerment, the result is even worse, with Japan at the 147th place. This is echoed by data of the Cabinet Office’s White Paper on Gender Equality in 2020 according to which the ratio of female members in Japan’s Lower House reached just 9.9%, while only two out of 21 Cabinet members were women. 

The gender gap report, first published in 2006, quantifies gender equality evaluations of 14 items in four categories, including politics, the economy, education and health. The index is topped by Iceland, followed by Finland and Norway. Highest ranked Asian country are the Philippines at 17, followed by Lao PDR at 36 and Timor-Leste at 64. Iran occupies the lowest rank 156. [World Economic Forum] [Kyodo News]

For insights into factors for the resilience of patriarchal attitudes in Japanese society, see [CNN].

6 April 2021

Japan: Communications Minister survives no-confidence motion

(dql) Japan’s Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Ryota Takeda of the Liberal Democrtic Partu (LDP) survived a no-confidence motion in the Lower House, submitted by the opposition parties and voted down by the majority of the ruling coalition of the LDP and its junior partner Komeito Party.

Takeda was accused of dishonest remarks pertaining to ethics violations allegedly committed by senior officials of the Communications Ministry who were treated expansive dinners by the country’s telecom giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT) and Tohokushinsha Film Corp. The officials confessed the invitations, but denied to have granted any favors to NTT or Tohokushinsha. [Mainichi]

6 April 2021

Japan to stop aid payments to Myanmar

(nd) Myanmar’s top donor Japan announced to stop issuance of new aids in response to the coup, but will not impose sanctions. Sanctions were imposed so far by Britain, the EU and the US, targeting specific persons as well as military-owned companies. Japan traditionally entertains close ties to Myanmar and is reportedly the fifth-largest foreign investor in the country. [Channel News Asia]

 

6 April 2021

Indonesia, Japan to sign military equipment and technology transfer agreement

(nd) Indonesia and Japan signed an agreement for the export of Japanese-made military equipment and technology. The agreement comes amid rising tensions in the South China Sea due to Chinese expansive claims. In an effort to modernize its defense, Indonesia reportedly held talks with Japan in November last year already, possibly supplying new-generation destroyers to the Indonesian Navy. Details of the defense agreement remained unreleased. Both underscored the importance of upholding the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific based on the rule of law.”

Worried about an effort to change the status quo, Japan voiced concerns about China’s new coast guard law, allowing its coast guard to open fire on foreign vessels in the disputed waters. The law was criticized by other Southeast Asian countries – Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam – and the US. China and Japan have territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, which China calls the Diaoyu Dao. [Benar News]

6 April 2021

South Korea, US, Japan hold three-way meeting

(nm) South Korean, US, and Japanese top officials last week held their first trilateral meeting after US President Biden took office to discuss, amongst other topics, issues with regards to North Korea, peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, as well as supply chain security. The meeting was held in Maryland, United States. 

In a joint statement following talks on Friday, the three raised concerns about Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and reaffirmed their goal to address denuclearization through “concerted trilateral cooperation,” as well as the “need for a diplomatic solution to the issue.” They further stressed the “imperative of full implementation” of relevant UN Security Council sanctions against the North. [Korea Herald 1]

The meeting comes amid the final stages of the Biden administration’s North Korea policy review. A US State Department spokesman last week stated that denuclearization will be at the centre of any US policy toward the North. Efforts by Washington to engage with Pyongyang diplomatically have so far remained unresponsive. South Korean National Security Adviser Suh Hoon also used the opportunity to hold bilateral talks with his Japanese and US counterparts. In his talks with US representative Jake Sullivan, Suh pointed at the positive effect that good inter-Korean relations might have on denuclearization talks. [Korea Herald 2] [Yonhap]

According to one US officials, the three parties were also set out to discuss the current semiconductor shortages, considering that international chip supply has increasingly become a national security concern. Although Taiwan is the world’s biggest contract chipmaker, South Korea is also home to the headquarters of key industry players, such as Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, coming in close to Taiwan capacity-wise. [Nikkei Asia

South Korea and Japan currently struggle to revive positive bilateral ties due to trade issues and wartime history. In an effort to address the conflict, South Korean and Japanese diplomats held closed-door meetings in Tokyo last week, one day after Chung had also expressed hope that he would meet with his Japanese counterpart sooner than later. The United States is currently pushing for closer trilateral ties with South Korea and Japan, an effort to counter growing competition with China, as well as a defiant North Korea. [Korea Herald 3] [Korea Herald 4]

 

6 April 2021

Japan-Germany relations: “2 plus 2” set for next week

(dql) Japan’s and Germany’s defense and foreign ministers are set to meet next week to hold the first ever “2 plus 2” dialogue between the two countries. The ministers are  expected to exchange ideas in order to elevate a “free and open Indo-pacific” against China’s assertiveness in the region as well as to formally conclude a military information protection agreement. [Republic World]

In September last year, Germany adopted its policy guidelines for the Indo-Pacific region, signaling a “new page” in the country’s foreign policy and international relations. Under the guidelines, Germany is planning its first dispatch of a frigate ship to the region in this summer. A possible port call by the vessel in Japan is expected to be among the topics to be discussed in their upcoming meeting. [Nikkei Asia]

Japan already holds “2 plus 2” talks with two other European power, France and the UK, and welcomes the talks with Germany as an opportunity to further bolster its position vis-à-vis China with the European Union’s largest economy. [Nippon]

 

30 March 2021

Japan, Indonesia conclude defense equipment deal

(dql) Japan and Indonesia concluded a deal to facilitate exports of Japanese-made defense equipment to the Southeast Asian country. It was signed after the foreign and defense ministers of Japan and Indonesia met in Tokyo to hold two-plus-two talks, during which they shared “serious concerns” about China’s “continued and strengthened unilateral attempts to alter the status quo by force” in the South and East China seas, and also condemned the recent killings of peaceful protestors by security forces in Myanmar.

Both sides also agreed on the need to strictly implement UN resolutions banning Pyongyang from testing ballistic missile and nuclear technologies. Japan, furthermore, pledged to extend 453 million USD in loans to assist Indonesia in natural disasters response and offered fisheries patrol vessels to support Jakarta’s efforts to strengthen law enforcement at sea. [Kyodo News]

30 March 2021

Japan: Lawmaker resigns over vote buying

(dql) Former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai announced to resign as lawmaker after he pleaded guilty to vote-buying. Kawai, a House of Representatives member, is accused of violating the election law by distributing money to politicians and supporters in Hiroshima Prefecture, western Japan, to reward them for votes secured in the campaign to get his wife Anri Kawai elected in July 2019. [Kyodo News]

23 March 2021

India, Japan likely to abstain from UN HRC vote on Sri Lanka

(lm) India and Japan are likely to abstain from voting at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) on March 23, which will take up a resolution over what is seen as deteriorating human rights conditions in Sri Lanka, India media have reported. Forty nations, mostly from Europe, have either become co-sponsor or additional sponsors of the pending resolution; 12 of these are currently members of the council and have voting rights. [The Citizen] [The Print]

On March 12, the so-called Core Group on Sri Lanka comprising the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, North Macedonia and Montenegro had submitted the final version of its resolution. The resolution will be informed by a scathing report of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) Michelle Bachelet, which documents the alarming retrograde trends on human rights in Sri Lanka and notes that the steps taken by the current government are a “warning sign” of future violations [see AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1].

The zero draft which had earlier been circulated was further strengthened during the consultations between the member states. For a start, the changes in the final version inserts language calling on Sri Lanka to fulfil its commitment on devolution, including the holding of provincial council elections, as defined in the thirteenth amendment (13A).

The amendment is a product of the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Accord which sought to resolve the Sri Lankan Civil War (1983-2009) by creating provincial councils and enabling Sinhalese and Tamil as national languages while preserving English as the link language. New Delhi takes the view that a devolution of power to the Tamil-dominated Northern and Eastern Province is essential for ethnic reconciliation and lasting peace in the island nation. Thus, India has routinely urged Colombo to fully implement the amendment at various platform, most recently when Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa visited New Delhi in February.

Moreover, the draft resolution notes the “persistent lack of accountability of domestic mechanisms” and calls to support trials in foreign countries. It also calls for strengthening the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) in collecting and preserving evidence related to human rights violations in Sri Lanka, in order to use them in future accountability processes. Further, the draft has been revised to state that Sri Lanka would be featured on the UN HRC’s agenda every six months till September 2022. It also asks the OHCHR to give an oral update on Sri Lanka in September 2021, followed by a written report due in March 2022.

Anticipating a hostile resolution, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa previously wrote to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, among others, seeking support at the 47-member Council. To follow up on his letter, President Rajapaksa two weeks ago held a phone conversation with Modi but India – unlike China, Russia, and Pakistan – has not officially declared its support to Sri Lanka. [The Hindu] [The Wire]

 

23 March 2021

After inaugural Quad summit, France edges strategically closer to grouping

(lm) Consistent with its 2019 Indo-Pacific strategy to be an ‘inclusive, stabilizing mediating power’, France is stepping up its Indi-Pacific maritime involvement, and is set to participate in two naval exercises in the next month. An amphibious assault ship and a frigate begun a three-months deployment in the Pacific in February – an annual event since 2015 – and will cross the South China Sea twice. [The EurAsian Times

Both ships will be leading France’s maritime Exercise La Perouse, which is expected to take place at the start of April and will be attended by India, the United States, Japan and Australia – all member states of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). After the first meeting of Quad leaders on the weekend, the countries reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring a ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific. [Hindustan Times]

Later the same month, the French Navy’s Carrier Strike Group will be joining Indian naval forces to jointly conduct this year’s iteration of their Exercise Varuna in the strategically important Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Notably, the United Arab Emirates for the first time will be joining the drills.

Moreover, seven more Rafale fighter jets supplied by France are expected to be delivered next month, completing the first squadron comprising 18 French omni-role fighters. It is the fourth batch of aircraft arriving in India since the government’s purchase four years ago of a total of 36 planes worth $9.2 billion from French defense manufacturer Dassault Aviation. The delivery of all 36 Rafale aircrafts is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021. [The Economic Times] [Mint]

 

23 March 2021

Japan-US relations: Allies agree on concerns over China

(dql/zh) U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and their Japanese counterparts – Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi – met last week for “two plus two” security talks in Tokyo. The visit to Japan marks the first overseas diplomatic journey for Blinken and Austin as representatives of the new Biden administration and is immediately followed by a visit to South Korea. After four years of relative U.S. inattention to its allies, US President Biden has pledged to rebuild ties with foreign friends, choosing two partners central to Washington’s challenges with a rising China and an increasingly nuclear North Korea. “It’s no accident we chose [South Korea] for the first cabinet-level overseas travel of the Biden-Harris administration, along with Japan,” Blinken remarked when he arrived in Seoul. [Wall Street Journal] [War on the Rocks]

During their meeting the Ministers exchanged and shared common concerns over a range of China’s policies and actions, made public in their joint statement, including human rights violations in Xinjiang, “unlawful maritime claims and activities in the South China Sea” and “unilateral action that seeks to change the status quo” over East China Sea islands disputed between China and Japan. They also agreed on the importance of “peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait.

Further issues discussed at this meeting included cooperation in the areas of coronavirus pandemic and climate change, as well as the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and the situation in post-coup Myanmar. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan] [AP]

Coming just a few days before the meeting with Chinese senior foreign policy officials, the visit of Blinken and Austin to Japan and South Korea (see entry below) aims at solidifying the tripartite US-Japanese-South Korean alliance (despite frosty Tokyo-Seoul relations over wartime issues) as part of the global front of the US and its allies envisioned by US President Biden’s to confront China. Blinken reassured Japan of the US commitment to the alliance and vowed that the US “will push back if necessary, when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way.” [Reuters] [VoA]

China’s Foreign Ministry was quick to fiercely reject the Ministers’ joint statement on China “unlawful” claims in the South China Sea, calling it a “malicious attack on China’s foreign policy,” which “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs, in an attempt to harm China’s interest.” Furthermore, it called Japan “a strategic vassal” of the US, while asserting China’s “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea and the adjacent waters.” [Reuters]

An opinion piece in [Foreign Policy] argues that as the strongest US ally in the region, rather than only name and shame, Japan could develop a “more ambitious and flexible toolkit” to address China’s human rights issues and defend liberal values.

 

23 March 2021

Japan: Communications Minister under pressure over a dinner with Japanese telecom giant executives

(dql) In the latest of a string of cases in the ‘dining scandal’, in the course of which several high-profile members of Prime Minister Suga’s Cabinet and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had to resign, Japanese Communications Minister Ryota Takeda admitted to have dined last November with executives of Japanese telecom giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp (NTT). Among them were NTT President Jun Sawada and Noriko Endo, an independent director of NTT Docomo Inc, Japan’s predominant mobile phone operator and an NTT subsidiary. At the time of the gathering, an NTT tender offer to make NTT Docomo a wholly owned subsidiary was under way.

Takeda denied to have violated an ethics code for ministers that bans them from being wined and dined by sectors under their jurisdiction. He argued that he “did not receive any specific request or demand,” from the NTT side, adding that he did not eat at the gathering and paid himself his three glasses of beer. [Japan Today]

In a separate development, House of Representatives member and former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has reportedly expressed his intention to resign as a lawmaker. Kawai is currently standing trial over charges of vote-buying. He is accused of handing out a total of about 265.000 USD to 100 individuals, including local politicians and supporters in his home prefecture of Hiroshima, to reward them for votes for his wife Anri Kawai which made her winning a seat in the 2019 House of Councilor election. [Mainichi]

23 March 2021

Japan: Non-recognition of same-sex marriage unconstitutional 

(dql) In a landmark ruling, a Japanese district court ruled that the country’s failure to recognize same-sex marriage is “unconstitutional”. The ruling refers to one of several cases brought to district courts in various parts of Japan by a group of same-sex couples who are seeking damages for mental suffering caused by the non-recognition of their marriage. The court rejected the compensation claim, but argued that the non-recognition violates to the right to equality, adding that the government’s failure to implement legal measures to offer “even a degree,” of marital benefits to same-sex couples was “discriminatory”. [Japan Times]

While the ruling does not legalize same-sex marriage and doesn’t apply nationwide, it is the first of its kind in Japan, raising hopes among the LGTB community that it will herald a new era for gender and marriage equality in the country. The hopes are reinforced by public support for the legalization on same-sex marriage which has increased to not less than 80% among Japanese aged between 20 and 59. [Equaldex]

While Japan is within the G7 group the only country that does not recognized either same-sex civil unions or same-sex marriage, it is in good company within Asia where only Taiwan has legalized same-sex marriage in May 2019 and Thailand is considering a bill that would legally recognize same-sex civil partnerships. [New York Times] [Time]

16 March 2021

Leaders of United States, Japan, India, and Australia meet in first-ever ‘Quad’ summit

(lm) The leaders of the United States, Japan, India and Australia met in a virtual summit on March 12, at a time when all four countries see heightened tensions with China over a variety of issues. The meeting marked the first time that talks have been held between the heads of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a loose strategic coalition seen as a potential counterweight to growing Chinese influence and alleged assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific. The collation is viewed warily by Beijing, which denounced it as an anti-China bloc. [CNN] [The Guardian]

Topics discussed during the virtual summit included supply chains, maritime security, and climate change. Notably, member states announced a partnership whereby Japan and the United States will finance manufacturing in India of the coronavirus vaccines from American drug makers Novavax Inc and Johnson & Johnson, with Australia handling the distribution among Southeast Asian and Pacific nations. While the move primarily aims at reducing manufacturing backlogs, it is worth recollecting that India in the past has urged other Quad members to invest in its vaccine production capacity to counter China’s widening vaccine diplomacy [see AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1]. [Reuters] [South China Morning Post 1]

The leaders also put their stamp on the creation of three new working groups. The first one will comprise of vaccine experts to devise the implementation plan, followed by two other working groups on climate change, and critical and emerging technology. [The White House]

In the run-up to the virtual summit, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi held a phone conversation on March 9 – the first since September last year – and agreed to step up bilateral cooperation to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific. [South China Morning Post 2]

Further, US Navy Admiral Philip S. Davidson – commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command – told US lawmakers at a congressional hearing on March 9 that China’s aggression along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) had ‘opened India’s eyes to strategic cooperation’ and would therefore provide an opportunity for the other Quad members states to strengthen ties with New Delhi. [Hindustan Times]

16 March 2021

US senior envoys to visit South Korea this week

(nm) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin are scheduled to visit Seoul on Wednesday for a two-day visit, embarking on the first overseas trip by senior members of the Biden administration. The two are expected to hold a two-plus-two-meeting with their respective South Korean counterparts, Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and Defense Minister Suh Wook, after their Asia trip in Japan on Monday.

Japan and South Korea are the US’ most important allies in the region and the visit is seen by many as a chance to establish ground rules and strengthen an allyship prior to a possible confrontation with Beijing. Diplomatic observers also see the meetings as a way to mediate in a dispute between Japan and South Korea over both historic war-time-related issues as well as current tensions over export controls, thus strengthening the trilateral partnership. This, in turn, supposedly allows for addressing problems in relation to North Korea and China, as well. [Korea Times]

The US’ row of diplomatic efforts started on Friday with a virtual summit of the so-called Quad allies – Australia, India, and Japan. In that meeting, the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the denuclearization of North Korea and stressed the need to resolve the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by the North. South Korea, meanwhile, said it would consider joining the regional security forum in an “transparent, open, and inclusive” manner. The nation has previously been reluctant to join the forum, which was established in 2007 to counter growing power by China, as China is South Korea’s largest trading partner. [New York Times 1, $] [Yonhap 1] [Yonhap 2]

The meeting is also expected to conclude a defence-cost sharing deal between Washington and Seoul relating to the stationing of about 28,500 US troops. After a year and a half of stalled negotiations under the Trump administration over the share of costs that Seoul was to shoulder, the two allies had eventually agreed to increase South Korea’s payment by 13.9 percent. [New York Times 2, $] [The Korea Herald 1]

For an evaluation of the future of US-ROK relations after the cost-sharing deal and South Korea’s foreign policy for the remainder of President Moon Jae-in’s administration, see [The Diplomat].

Last week, Blinken also confirmed that the US will not ease its sanctions on Iran, including the release of about $7 billion in Iranian funds currently frozen in South Korean banks, until Iran comes back into compliance with its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the well-known nuclear deal. He thereby flatly dismissed the possibility opened by South Korea to release about $1 billion of said funds for humanitarian purposes, should the US agree. The funds have been frozen in South Korea since shortly after the US quit the nuclear deal under the Trump administration in May 2018. Since assuming office in January, the Biden administration has been urging Iran to comply with the deal, stating the US would then also re-enter the agreement. [The Korea Herald 2]

16 March 2021

SIPRI international arms transfers report 2020

(dql) According to the 2020 international arms transfers report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), released last week, the US remains the world’s largest arms supplier in 2016-2020 accounting for 37% of the global arms exports, followed by Russia (20%), France (8.2), Germany (5.5%) and China (5.2%). Together, these five countries accounted for 76% of all exports of major arms. Besides China, Asian countries listed among the top 25 countries which accounted for 99% of global arms exports include South Korea (2.7%, ranking at 7), the United Arab Emirates (0.5%, 18), and India (0.2%, 24)

Against the backdrop of the US-China rivalry, the US allies Australia (accounting for 9.4% of US arms exports), South Korea (6.7%) and Japan (5.7%) were among the five largest importers of US arms.

23 Asian countries were among the 40 largest importers including Saudi-Arabia, India, China, South Korea, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Iraq, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand, Oman, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Jordan, the Philippines, Azerbaijan, Myanmar, Taiwan, and Malaysia. [Reliefweb]

 

16 March 2021

Japan: Cabinet adopts bill to reduce usage of plastic 

(dql) Japan’s Cabinet approved a bill aimed at reducing plastic waste by promoting a set of new measures including recycling a wider range of waste and reducing the use of plastic at restaurants and retail stores. If cleared by the Diet, the new law would go into effect in April 2022.  

The bill bans shops and businesses from offering disposable cutlery and plastic straws for free. Alternative solutions proposed in the bill include charging customers for single-use cutlery or switching to plastic-free materials. Retail stores are required to introduce measures to cut waste, such as charging for packaging, shifting from plastic packaging to more environmentally-friendly materials, or making it standard practice to ask customers whether they need packaging at all. Businesses failing to comply can be fined with up to 4.600 USD. 

Japan produces over 8 million tons of plastic waste annually, causing serious marine pollution. [Mainichi]

16 March 2021

Japan: New dining scandal cases?

(dql) The pressure on Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga over dining scandals involving high-ranking members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and members of his cabinet continues after media outlets reported last week that Seiko Noda, LDP’s acting executive acting secretary general and former communications minister, and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Manabu Sakai as well as LDP lawmaker Minoru Terada, who both served as a senior vice minister at the ministry, were treated expansive meals by Japan’s telecom giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT). [Japan Times]

In related earlier developments, the Suga’s Vice Minister for Policy Coordination was sacked over a NTT-sponsored dinner while his Public Relations Secretary resigned after it was revealed that she was treated a 700 USD dinner by a Japanese broadcasting firm in 2019 when she served as senior bureaucrat at the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry which grants broadcasting licenses. [Nippon] [AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1]

9 March 2021

Japan: Domestic violence reports in Japan hit record under pandemic

(dql) According to data of Japan’s National Police Agency, reports regarding domestic violence hit a record-high number in 2020, with more than 82.600 consultations and reports nationwide, a rise of 436 compared to 2019, and 76% of the victims being women.

Experts believe that the rise in domestic violence, mainly between spouses, is linked to longer periods at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. [NHK]

9 March 2021

US to bolster deterrence in South China Sea

(nd) As part of the Pacific Deterrence Initiative that the US Indo-Pacific Command has submitted to Congress, the US plans to upgrade its regular deterrence against China with a network of precision-strike missiles along the so-called first island chain, and integrated air missile defense in the second island chain. The first island chain describes land features in the western Pacific stretching from Japan, to Taiwan, and through Philippines and Indonesia in the South China Sea. The second island chain is located further to the east, starting in Japan and running through Guam. An estimated around $27 billion will therefore be invested through fiscal year 2027. The bill suggests to modernize and strengthen the presence of US forces, improve logistics and maintenance capabilities, carry out joint force exercises and innovation, improve infrastructure to enhance responsiveness and resiliency. The amount is a 36% increase over the planned spending, showcasing the level of alarm with respect to Chinese activity in the South China Sea, aiming to avoid a permanent change of the status quo.

With respect to the implementation of the plan, China objected earlier against the US to place missiles in allied countries, e.g. South Korea. According to a Japanese defense white paper, the US has about 132,000 troops stationed in the Indo-Pacific. China’s military renewal is ongoing, holding a diverse missile arsenal. China holds about 1,250  ground-based, intermediate-range missiles, while the US has none due to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which banned the development of ground-based missiles with ranges between 500 km and 5,500 km until 2019. The Chinese arsenal makes the traditional Navy and Air Force centered US approach less feasible, and the deployment of intermediate range missiles in the Indo-Pacific a subject of discussion between the US and Japan. Right now, none of the US’s missiles in Japan could reach China, and deploying weapons there could lead to diplomatic tensions. About 55,000 US troops are stationed in Japan, forming the largest contingent of American troops abroad. [Nikkei Asia] [Radio Free Asia]

9 March 2021

China-Japan relations: Tokyo considering sending in troops to deal with Chinese coast guard in disputed waters

(dql) Following recent increased activities of Chinese coast guard vessels in the contested waters near the Japanese-controlled Diaoyu Islands, known in Japan as the Senkakus, Japan is considering to send its armed forces there, with Japanese official stressing that domestic law allows the self-defence forces to weapons as law enforcement against unlawful activities on behalf of Japan’s coastguard in case China’s coastguard enters Japan’s territorial waters without permission. [South China Morning Post]

The statement comes after China recently enacted a law permitting China’s coast guard to use weapons against foreign ships that Beijing sees as illegally entering its waters. After the law came into force on February 1, the frequency of Chinese coastguard vessels entering the waters has risen from twice a month last year to twice a week in February, raising Japan’s security concerns. [AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4]

2 March 2021

China-Japan relations: Tokyo voices concerns over mass arrests in Hong Kong

(dql/zh) In response to a question from an opposition party during a parliamentary session, the Japanese government issued a statement criticizing China’s grip on Hong Kong, saying it “cannot tolerate mass arrests” and had “grave concerns” over the situation in the city. At the same time, the statement stressed the importance of economic and personal ties between Japan and Hong Kong, saying Tokyo had conveyed its position to Beijing and was working with allied countries on the issue. Japan was Hong Kong’s fourth-largest trading partner in 2019. [South China Morning Post]

The statement comes as Sino-Japanese tensions over disputed islands in the East China Sea flared up after Chinese coast guard ships entered disputed waters around the Senkaku/Diayu islands, prompting intervention by a Japanese patrol ship as well as criticism of the US Department of Defense (DoD) calling on China “to stop sending government ships into Japan’s territorial waters,” and refrain from actions that could cause “miscalculations” and “potential physical harm.” The DoD added that the US was committed to defending Japan in case of conflict, according to  Article 5 of the 1906 bilateral security treaty between both the US and Japan. [NHK] [Republic World]

In response, China’s Foreign Ministry lashed out against Japan and the US calling the Japan-US mutual security pact a product of the Cold War, “which should not harm a third party’s interest or endanger regional peace and stability.” [Military Times]

2 March 2021

Myanmar: Lethal force against protesters, international backlash

(nd) Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi met her Myanmar counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin and Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai in Bangkok to facilitate an ASEAN approach to respond to the recent military coup in Myanmar. Uniting the regional bloc, which is governed by the principle of non-interference, will be a challenge though. In a statement, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha confirmed his participation in the talks, stressing that their meeting was not signaling an “endorsement” of the situation. In reverse, there was also no condemnation as well. [Bangkok Post]

Indonesian Minister Marsudi reported from her trip to Brunei last week, that the Sultan supports a special ASEAN meeting on Myanmar. She also had telephone conversations with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the foreign ministers of Japan, India and China on the issue. Indonesia is the largest member of ASEAN. It accounts for 40% of its population and gross domestic product, and has a track record of pushing for delicate issues to be tabled on the ASEAN agenda. [See also AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4] So far, however, Myanmar seems to have rejected the offer of a special foreign ministers’ meeting of the ASEAN member states. The response from other member states remained divided. [Nikkei Asia 1

Also, some activists criticized Indonesia for its approach for allegedly legitimizing the junta leaders. Moreover, in a joint open letter to ASEAN, dozens of Southeast Asian NGOs said that the fractured response will damage the bloc’s image and credibility. [Benarnews]

According to a leaked document, the World Bank has notified the military that it put on hold disbursements for their operations as of February 1. Payment application prior to the coup will still be executed. [Irrawaddy 1] Following a partial ban last week, Facebook banned all remaining accounts, pages, media entities, and commercial ads run by the military on Facebook and Instagram, citing the “deadly violence” occurring since the coup. Facebook is Myanmar’s most popular social media platform and a frequently used site for information. [Irrawaddy 2]

Meanwhile, the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) is gaining momentum with more and more individuals and businesses joining to boycott products linked to the military. Additionally, shops and roadside vendors started to refuse to sell goods to the police, military personnel, and their family members, to oppose the security forces’ crackdown on protesters. [Irrawaddy 3] The CDM is growing steadily and is noticeable in everyday life, leaving hospitals, bank, factories and government offices empty. Some 50 civil servants lost their job over their participation in the strike. According to an estimate by the UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, three-quarters of the civil servants are on strike. Overnight arrests are targeting CDM participants in particular. [Channel News Asia]

The coup continues to affect Myanmar’s economy, with Japanese automaker Toyota announcing a delay in opening a factory due to the situation. Japan also considers stopping new official development aid to Myanmar amid the deadly crackdown on protesters. On Friday, a Japanese journalist was detained by the police. [Nikkei Asia 2]

Japan has been assisting Myanmar economically since 2011 and provided 189.3-billion-yen ($1.8 billion) in official development aid (ODA) in 2019. Unlike US and Europe, Japan kept ties to the military and did not impose sanctions of Myanmar, but froze ODA, which it tied to democratization efforts. Also with the latest coup, Japan has not imposed sanctions yet and seems to be looking to get in contact with the military to avoid driving Myanmar closer to China. Still, Japan joined US and Europe in their criticism of the coup and urged the military to stop its crackdown on protesters. [Nikkei Asia 3]

Last Thursday, protesters clashed with around hundred military supporters in Yangon, hinting at more escalation. [Voice of America] Following almost 800 arrests among protesters, the military started to target major, medium-sized and small business owners and contractors across the country by interrogating and in certain cases detaining them detained by the Office of the Chief of Security Affairs, the most feared branch of Myanmar’s military intelligence agency. All business owners were accused of entertaining ties and having made donations to the National League for Democracy (NLD) or Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother’s charitiy, the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation. Their whereabouts are unknown. [Asia Times]

At least 25 journalists were arrested nationwide, with 10 remaining detained. [Irrawaddy]

Over the weekend, at least 18 people died and many were wounded when police used live rounds to disperse protesters. The UN, EU, Canada and Japan have strongly condemned the violence. [Irrawaddy 4] UN special rapporteur Tom Andrews released a statement listing options for UN member states and the security council to take action. Among them were a global arms embargo, sanctions against businesses owned or controlled by the junta, and to convene the UN Security Council. He also urged countries that imposed sanctions to “immediately consider more.” [Voice of America] Even before the last weekend’s violence, Myanmar’s ambassador to the UN intensely urged the international community to take the “strongest possible action”, flashing the three-finger-salute used by pro-democracy protesters. [Asia Times 2] After his speech, according to leaked documents the military recalled at least 100 staff from missions in at least 19 countries, transferring more than 50 staff from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) to the vacant positions. [Irrawaddy 5]

The military asked security forces not to use live rounds any more, following the international criticism. [South China Morning Post]

On Monday, the first trial day was held via video conference, showing ousted leader Aung Sun Suu Kyi in good health. It is expected to be a lengthy trial to keep her detained and possibly unavailable for the announced new general election, after two more charges were added against her. Meanwhile, the military spokesperson announced that the office of state counselor, a position established for Suu Kyi who could not become president due to her foreign husband, would be eliminated. [Nikkei Asia 4]

On Tuesday, a special ASEAN foreign minister meeting was resumed. Both Singapore and Malaysia condemned the violence. Singapore faced heavy criticism for being the main source of foreign direct investment in Myanmar and entertaining close links to the junta.

2 March 2021

Japan: Record low number of newborns in 2020

(dql) Deepening concerns about continuously sinking birth rates in Japan, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Society revealed that the number of babies born in 2020 stood at 872.683. With almost 26.000 less than in 2019, the number marks a new record low. [Mainichi]

2 March 2021

Japan: Waiving land rent for Confucian temple unconstitutional 

(dql) Japan’s Supreme Court, the country’s highest court, ruled that the offer of the government of the city of Naha to provide a Confucian temple with the free use of a land lot was unconstitutional as it was “giving a helping hand to a particular religion,” thus violating the principle of separation of religion and state.

In 2014, the city government exempted the temple, dedicated to the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius, from a yearly land rent of more than 54.000 USD, citing public interest the temple would serve as it provided space to study Confucianism and the history of Okinawa of which Naha is the capital. [Asahi Shimbun]

2 March 2021

Japan: Government cuts red tapes for defamation victims seeking information about harassers

(dql) Japan’s government approved a bill to simplify court procedures to help victims of cyberbullying to easier obtain information about those putting defamatory posts online, including their names, postal addresses, and communication records. The envisioned new procedure allows them to undergo only one procedure in which a court is supposed to decide whether or not disclose the requested information. Under the current law, victims in general must go through at least two court proceedings – one against social media operators and a second one against internet service providers. This time consuming and costly procedure has thus far scared off many to take action. [Kyodo News]

2 March 2021

Japan: Resignation of Cabinet Public Relations Secretary a setback for Prime Minister Suga

(dql) In a blow to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s efforts to regain public trust amid low approval ratings due heavy criticism of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, his Cabinet Public Relations Secretary Makiko Yamada resigned this week after she had come under pressure over accusations of violating the national public service ethics law. Media reports revealed that she was treated a costly dinner by a broadcasting firm that employs the Prime Minister’s eldest son in 2019 when she was serving as senior bureaucrat at the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry which grants licenses to broadcasting businesses. [Kyodo News]  

 

2 March 2021

South Korea-Japan relations: Moon reaffirms openness to talks at Independence Movement Day celebrations 

(nm) South Korean President Moon Jae-in has stressed his openness to talks with Japan in his speech delivered during a ceremony to mark the 102nd anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement Day, presenting a ‘two-track’ approach towards improving South Korean-Japanese relations. While expressing his determination to improve both countries’ “cooperation and forward-looking development,” he at the same declared that “the Korean Government will always pursue wise solutions based on a victim-centered approach.” [Yonhap]

This second track refers to disputes over Japan’s wartime rule on the Korean and rulings of South Korean courts ordering the Japanese government and Japanese companies to pay compensation to South Korean victims of sexual enslavement and forced labour during that time. Bilateral relations have plummeted to historic lows over the issues over the past years. [Korea Times] [Korea Herald]

The March 1 Independence Movement Day refers to a protest movement led by Korean students calling for independence from Japan, and protesting forced assimilation into the Japanese way of life. 

23 February 2021

Quad diplomats hold virtual meeting

(lm) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met virtually on February 18 with his counterparts from Australia, India and Japan under the informal Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a loose strategic coalition seen as a potential bulwark against China’s growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific. The meeting was the grouping’s first under the new Biden-Harris Administration, although it has discussed its future role in bilateral calls with members since then [see e.g. AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4]. [Reuters] [South China Morning Post]

During the meeting, Blinken and his counterparts – Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar – discussed their cooperation on various global and regional issues, including tensions in the South China Sea, climate change, North Korea and the recent coup d’état in Myanmar [see AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1]. [The Hindu]

In a separate call, The US Secretary of State also met virtually the same day with his counterparts from France, Germany and the United Kingdom – a group known as the “E3”.

23 February 2021

South Korea-Japan relations: Japanese diplomat called in over Dokdo conflict 

(nm) South Korea’s Foreign Ministry called in a Japanese diplomat to lodge protest against Japan’s conduct of the ‘Takeshima Day’ event to renew Tokyo’s claim over the islet Takeshima, called Dokdo in South Korea. 

The uninhabited islet has been effectively controlled by South Korea since the 1950s and has become a recurring source of conflict between Japan and South Korea as Tokyo continues to claim them as part of its sovereign territory in policy papers, public statements, and school textbooks. The conflict adds to strained bilateral relations between the two nations over wartime history and trade issues. [Korea Herald

 

23 February 2021

South Korea, Japanese and US diplomats agree to cooperate on peninsula denuclearization and peace 

(nm) Japanese, South Korean, and US-American diplomats have agreed to closely cooperate to achieve complete denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean peninsula after South Korea’s top nuclear envoy, Noh Kyu-duk, met with US and Japanese representatives in video talks last Friday to discuss North Korea-related issues. They also agreed to hold follow-up consultations. The talks come as the US Biden administration is conducting a review of its entire policy toward North Korea. [The Korea Times]

The agreement comes at a time when South Korea and Japan are caught in dire bilateral relations over long-running issues concerning wartime forced labour. Last month, a Seoul court had ordered Japan to make reparations to 12 former sexual slavery victims called “comfort women,” with one of them now demanding that Seoul brings the issue to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, as Japan refuses to accept the court’s ruling, citing sovereign immunity. [Korea Herald

Meanwhile, South Korea Defense Ministry released a report which concludes that North Korea has expanded its missile development facilities and beefed up its missile and other conventional weapons. They includesSeveral new types of ballistic missiles have such as its version of Russia’s Iskander, and the US’ Army Tactical Missile System, but also advanced submarine-launched ballistic missiles. [Yonhap]

23 February 2021

Japan-US relations: Joint navy exercises kicks off amid intrusions of Chinese coast guard vessels into Japanese waters

(dql) Japan and the US have begun Resilient Shield 2021 exercises, computer-based naval drills focusing on ballistic missiles defense and involving nearly 80 American and Japanese command centers. They aimed to test joint tactics used to face regional threats. [Newsweek]

The exercises come a day after two Chinese Coast Guard vessels have repeatedly entered and left Japan’s territorial waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands on Sunday, marking the ninth intrusion this year and the latest since China’s new coast guard law entered into force on February 1. The new law allows its coast guard to use weapons against foreign ships viewed by Beijing as illegally entering its waters. [Japan Times]

23 February 2021

Japan: Two top bureaucrats sacked over dinner with Prime Minister’s son

(dql) The Director General of the Information and Communications Bureau and his deputy – were sacked and are facing disciplinary measures. The move, announced by Communications minister Ryota Takeda, comes after media revelations that they were invited to costly dinners by a son of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in possible violation of ethics code. Takeda, however, denied any connection between the ousting of the two top bureaucrats and the dinners, saying that the decision was made “light of various situations”. Suga, meanwhile, insists that he was not aware of the dinners. [Kyodo News]

In another case, a Lower House member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) quit the party following a report about his visit of a luxurious Tokyo nightlife venue in defiance of government calls to avoid unnecessary outings under a state of emergency.  Earlier this month, three fellow party members left the LDP in the wake of public anger over visits to hostess bars.

The scandals add pressure to Suga who is facing widespread criticism over his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in Japan. [Mainichi]

 

23 February 2021

Japan: Government approves bill to end long-term detention of violators of immigration rules

(dql) Japan’s government approved a bill aimed to end the long-term detentions of foreigners who violated immigration rules and are awaiting deportation. The bill introduces a mechanism called “supervisory measures” which provides for a release of the detainee upon paying a deposit of up to nearly 30.000 USD. The supervisory measures would apply to people not falling under a fleeing risk and would allow them to take part in societal activities while a family member, associate, support worker or other individual are designated by the immigration authorities as their custodian, required to provide reports on the concerned individual’s living conditions.

The current law in place allows people to leave detention only for a set period of time due to health issues and other reasons. [Mainichi]

23 February 2021

Japan: Court rules post-divorce single-parent custody system constitutional

(dql) A Tokyo court ruled that Japan’s single-parent custody system for divorced couples is constitutional rejecting a suit of a man who lost custody of his children after divorce. The father claimed violation of equality guaranteed by the Constitution and sought 15,600 USD in damages, citing mental suffering from losing custody of his two sons following his divorce in 2019.

Different from many developed countries, Japan’s Civil Law does not provide for a shared child custody system for divorced couples, but grants full custody of children to only one parent after divorce. [Mainichi]

16 February 2021

Japan: Political heavyweight resigns over sexist remarks

(dql) Protesting against sexists remarks of Japan’s former Prime Minister and chief of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee Yoshiro Mori opposition female lawmakers attended a parliamentary session last week in white jackets, while their male counterparts sported white rose in solidarity. During an online gathering of the Committee last week Mori said that meetings with women “drag on” as they talk too much due to their “strong sense of rivalry.” 

The action was reminiscent of a group of US lawmakers wearing white in support of women’s issues during former US President Donald Trump’s 2019 and 2020 State of the Union addresses.  

The statement of Mori – a onetime leader of the biggest fraction within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party – triggered widespread criticism among athletes, volunteers, sponsors, media and the public, eventually leading to his resignation as head of the Committee only a week after he assumed this post. [Japan Times] [Reuters]

 

16 February 2021

Japan: Sharp rise in suicides among young students

(dql) At an expert meeting this week, Japan’s Ministry of Education released data of the Ministry of Health according to which a total of 479 elementary, junior high and high school students committed suicide in 2020, marking a sharp increase compared with 2019 with 339. 

The Ministry cited as key reasons anxiety about the future, weak performance in school and bad relationships with parents. It also annunced to conduct a detailed analysis to clarify whether the pandemic has had an impact on the rise of the number. [Japan Times]

 

16 February 2021

Sri Lanka, Japan hold second round of policy dialogue days after Colombo’s U-turn on port deal

(lm) Representatives from Sri Lanka and Japan on February 10 participated in the second round of the Sri Lanka-Japan Policy Dialogue through video channel. Separately, Japan on February 11 announced it will provide approx. $620.000 for a project funding mine clearance in northern Sri Lanka. [ColomboPage] [Daily Financial Times] [EconomyNext]

The meeting came at a time when Sri Lanka is yet to officially inform India and Japan about its recent decision that the strategic Colombo Port’s Eastern Container Terminal (ECT) will be exclusively operated by its state-owned Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). 

Last week, the Cabinet of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa voted to undo a 2019 cooperation pact offering India the right to operate the long-stalled container terminal project at the Colombo port, leaving the latter red-faced, especially at a time when New Delhi is pursuing varied strategies to counterbalance China’s maritime and geopolitical assertiveness in its own backyard. The deal called for a three-way joint venture framework, with the SLPA retaining a 51 percent controlling stake and the remainder split between Indian and Japanese partners. Tokyo was to provide a loan to SLPA to finance the project. [AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2]

Officially, the decision was made in light of growing protests by labor unions and influential sections of the Buddhist clergy. At the same time, however, observers keeping a close eye on the matter have been abuzz with talk of back-door pressure exerted by Beijing on Sri Lankan counterparts to pull the plug on Indian investment, a possibility that is tied to two aspects: China’s high-stakes investments — covering the Colombo International Container Terminal and the Hambantota port — and a recent flare-up in border issues between the two countries. [JOC]

 

9 February 2021

Japan: Lawmaker resigns over vote buying

(dql) Member of Japan’s Upper House Anri Kawai submitted her resignation in response to a court ruling in January which found her guilty of vote buying in the 2019 election, handing out more than 15.000 USD in total to four Hiroshima prefectural assembly members between March and May in 2019. Kawai denied all charges against her, but refrained from appealing the court’s decision. 

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga strongly backed Kawai’s eventually successful race for the Upper House, appearing at her speeches at the campaign. Her resignation adds pressure on the Prime Minister who is currently low approval ratings of only 33% over criticism of his handling of the pandemic. [Kyodo News] [NHK]

9 February 2021

Japan to set up a new digitalization government agency 

(dql) The set-up of a new government agency in September this year, tasked with promoting Japan’s digitalization, is at the center of reform bills approved by the cabinet. The agency would be headed by Minister while the top administrative post would be given to a person from the private sector. Staffed with around 500 people, more than 100 of whom are expected to be civilian IT engineers. 

Further reform measures covered by the bills seek to expand the use of the My Number social security and taxation identification number system, to unify and standardize core information systems used by local governments, as well as to step up the digitalization of administrative services, an area in which Japan lags behind many other developed countries symbolized by the “hanko”, seals used to identify individuals involved in government and trading, dating back to ancient times. [Nippon] [Kyodo News]

 

9 February 2021

Sri Lanka pulls out of three-party agreement with India and Japan for operating Eastern Coast Terminal

(lm) Scuttling a 2019 trilateral agreement with India and Japan, the Sri Lankan government has decided that the strategic Colombo Port’s Eastern Container Terminal (ECT) will be exclusively operated by the state-owned Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). A cabinet meeting held on February 1 further decided to offer the West Container Terminal to India for possible investments, instead. [The Hindu 1]

India and Japan consider their presence in the Colombo Port a strategic necessity in the face of China’s presence in the adjacent Colombo Port City project, a flagship $1.4 billion project in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) [see AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1]. According to the 2019 Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC), which was signed by the administration of then-President Maithripala Sirisena, the tri-nation project was to be developed with 51 percent ownership by Sri Lanka’s government and the remaining 49 percent as an investment by Indian multinational conglomerate Adani Group and other stakeholders, including Japan.

India has an additional reason to seek a foothold in Colombo Port as approximately 70 percent of the throughput at Colombo port is accounted for by Indian transshipment. But what is more, observers believe New Delhi’s assertive role in Sri Lanka to be part of larger efforts to regain strategic ground India has lost to China in its own backyard. Thus, the project has figured in talks at the highest levels, including when Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar visited Colombo in January, laying down unequivocal terms for the Indian-backed development of a container jetty in the port [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]. [Nikkei Asia]

A week later, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa told agitating trade unions that his government decided to take forward the 2019 triparty MoC after it had reviewed “regional geopolitical concerns” [see AiR No. 3, January/2021, 3]. The concessions came at a time when Sri Lanka has been holding out a virtual begging bowl for a nearly $2 billion financial lifeline – a $1 billion currency swap arrangement and $960 million debt moratorium – from India to service its multibillion-dollar international debts and to run a current account deficit estimated at $1.1 billion annually [see AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3].

However, twenty-seven trade unions instigated by the Sinhalese nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna [People’s Liberation Front] (JVP) have been agitating against the deal on the grounds that it is a “sellout” of a national asset to India. The JVP and the trade unions are exploiting the fact that the ruling Sri Lanka People’s Freedom Alliance (SLPFA) had come to power in the 2019 Presidential election and last year’s parliamentary elections after campaigning on a platform aimed at stoking ethnic Sinhala nationalism, promising not to barter away national assets like ports and airports to other countries [see e.g., AiR No. 47, November/2019, 3].

Such a pledge was given following the SLPFA’s trenchant criticism against the leasing out of another deep seaport located in the south of the island after the port was operating at a loss and could not generate enough revenue to repay the loan the country had received to build it. The $1.12 billion deal, first announced in July 2016, allowed a Chinese state company to take over the port in Hambantota, which straddles the world’s busiest east-west shipping route, on a 99-year lease [see AiR December/2017, 3].

Soon after the Sri Lanka government succumbed to pressure from the trade unions, India asked all sides to abide by the existing understandings and commitment of the trilateral agreement. Further, India’s High Commissioner to Sir Lanka met with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena on February 3. [Economy Next]

On February 5, then, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) refused to provide the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) a further extension of a $400 million currency swap facility set to expire on February 1, saying that the rollover would require Colombo having a successfully negotiated staff-level agreement for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program. Commenting on reports that the denial of an extension was retributive, India’s High Commission to Colombo explained that the initial $400 million currency swap facility was provided last year for an initial period of three months and a 3-month rollover was provided lasting till the 1 February 2021 [see AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4]. [The Hindu 2] [Tamil Guardian]

In light of Colombo’s change of heart, another event assumes added significance: As early as on January 18, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa selected a Chinese company to set up hybrid wind and solar energy projects on three Sri Lankan islands only 45 kilometers off the coast of Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India. Back then, India had lodged a strong protest Sri Lanka government, citing the project site’s proximity to the Indian coastline. [The Hindu 3] [The Indian Express]

 

9 February 2021

Japan-ADB cooperation agreement on ASEAN energy projects 

(dql) In a move to strengthen its footprint in Southeast Asia against China, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has reached an agreement with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) under which both sides will cooperate on clean energy projects in the frame of the Cleaner Energy Future Initiative for ASEAN (CEFIA), covering areas of renewable energy, energy conservation and efficiency, and other technologies for low carbon energy transition.

Established in 2019, the CEFIA seeks to accelerate the deployment of sustainable energy and low carbon technologies in Southeast Asia. [Modern Diplomacy]

9 February 2021

South Korea’s 2020 Diplomatic Paper calls Japan “closest neighbor”, again 

(dql) Reflecting a fresh push for improving ties with Tokyo frayed over wartime issues, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry has resumed the designation of “closest neighbor” for Japan in its 2020 Diplomatic White Paper, saying that “Japan is South Korea’s closest neighboring country that we should work with not only for bilateral relations but also for the peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia and the world.” The 2019 version called Japan only a “neighboring country,” compared to “the closest neighbor geographically and culturally” and a “partner” as the 2018 White Paper.

Both countries’ relations have sharply cooled down after South Korean courts in 2019 ruled in favor of Korean victims seeking damages from Japan and Japanese companies over wartime sexual enslavement and forced labor. Tokyo retaliated with export restrictions against Seoul. [Korea Herald]

9 February 2021

China-Japan relations: High-level consultation on maritime affairs

(zh) China and Japan held the 12th round of high-level consultation on maritime affairs via a video call to discuss the bilateral consultation mechanism as well as maritime defense, maritime law enforcement and security, and marine economy, with both sides agreeing on maritime search cooperation between the China Maritime Search and Rescue Center and the Japan Coast Guard, combating maritime crimes and promoting exchanges between law enforcement officers. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China, in Chinese]

The meeting came amid rising concerns in Japan over China’s new coast guard law which enter into force on February 1 and which permits Chinese coast guards to use military weapons in the waters China claims, when “national sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction are being illegally infringed upon by foreign organizations or individuals at sea.” [AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4] [Japan Times 1]

Days after the consultation, two Chinese coast guard vessels entered the Japanese territorial waters near Diaoyu Islands, the fifth time this year that Chinese vessels have entered Japanese waters and the first under the new coast guard law which came into effect on February 1. [Japan Times 2] [Mainichi]

2 February 2021

South Korea-Japan relations: Tokyo not a “partner” anymore, South Korean defense white paper says

(dql) Reflecting strained relations between South Korea and Japan, the former has downgraded the status of the former in its defense white paper by dropping “partner”. While, In the previous 2018 version of the biannual report both countries were described as “geographically and culturally close neighbors as well as partners cooperating for global peace and prosperity,” the current one reads considers the two countries as “close neighbors that should cooperate not only for the two countries’ relationships but also for peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia and the world.” [Kyodo News]

2 February 2021

Japan-UK relations: Tokyo pushes back against London’s plan to boost G7 Asia reach

(dql) Japan has voiced concerns about British plans to invite Australia, India and South Korea to a meeting of G7 foreign ministers and have them sign up to a joint charter with the forum, arguing that the aim of the summit should be lie in rebuilding the G-7 after a difficult year, and not in institutionalizing a relationship with the invited guests.

Observers believe that Tokyo’s resistance is also motivated by it wish to remain the only Asian country in the group to sustain robust relations with the US without any impediments as well as to avoid heighten Sino-Japanese tensions by agreeing to the creation an overtly anti-China coalition. [Business Standard] [MENAFN]

 

2 February 2021

Japan-US relations: Biden, Suga reaffirm alliance in phone talk

(dql) US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga agreed in the phone talk last week on the important of their countries’ alliance as “the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in a free and open Indo-Pacific.” Both leaders also discussed the US’ “unwavering commitment to the defense of Japan” under the US-Japanese security treaty, with Biden reaffirming his “commitment to provide extended deterrence to Japan.” They also agreed on the necessity of complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. [Reuters]

2 February 2021

Japan: Government extends Covid-19 state of emergency

(dql) The Japanese government has extended the state of emergency for ten prefectures – including Tokyo – until March 7, as hospitals remain under pressure despite declining coronavirus cases.

The extension comes after the capital reported 393 coronavirus cases on Monday, marking the lowest number in over one month and a significant decrease from the single-day record of 2.447 in early January when the current emergency was declared. 

Under the state of emergency, people are called on to refrain from unnecessary outings. Restaurants and bars are being asked to close early, while businesses are urged to shift to remote working and attendance at large events has been capped. [Kyodo News]

In an earlier move last week, the parliament approved a government-sponsored third supplementary budget for fiscal 2020 to fund Covid-19related economic measures, amounting to a total of 185 billion USD. Last year, parliament passed two extra budgets for fiscal 2020 totaling more than 540 billion USD for economic stimulus packages to counter the fallout of the pandemic. [Mainichi]

 

2 February 2021

Japanese version of Magnitsky Act on the way

(dql) Lawmakers of both the ruling coalition and opposition parties in Japan have launched an initiative to push for a Japanese version of the US Magnitsky Act that imposes sanctions on foreign individuals or organizations involved in human rights violations. The group’s first general meeting is scheduled for this week. [Mainichi]

26 January 2021

Japan-South Korea relations: President Moon Jae-in seeks diplomatic solution in forced labor compensation issue

(dql) South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in described the possible sales of Japanese companies’ assets to compensate groups of South Koreans over wartime labor as “undesirable” for bilateral ties between South Korea and Japan, adding that he would prioritize a “diplomatic solution” between both countries “that is   also satisfactory to the plaintiffs.”

His statement comes at a time when South Korean plaintiffs who won damages suits against two Japanese companies in South Korea’s Supreme Court in 2018 over forced labor during World War II, are taking legal steps to seek sales of assets of the companies in South Korea to enforce the compensation payments. IT comes also shortly after a South Korea court in a ruling earlier this month ordered the Japanese government to pay compensation to South Korean ‘comfort women’ during World War II.

Moon’s remark is seen by analysts as an attempt to ease high running tensions between Seoul and Tokyo over the issues of forced labor and ‘comfort women’ during Japan’s rule over the Korean peninsula from 1910-1945, as it marks the first time that he indicates opposition to a legal solution of the matter. Tokyo has thus far uncompromisingly refused to accept any of the recent related decisions of South Korean courts, arguing that all compensation issues had been settled by the 1965 bilateral treaty. [Kyodo News]

26 January 2021

Japan-US relations: Defense Ministers reaffirm defense cooperation over Senkaku Islands

(dql) Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi and his newly appointed US counterpart Lloyd Austin agreed during a phone talk that the Japanese controlled, Chinese claimed Senkaku Islands fall under the security treaty between both countries which was concluded 1951 and amended 1960, establishing the military alliance between Japan and the US. In a thinly veiled attack against China, both Ministers reaffirmed that they “oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China seas.”

Both defense chiefs also reasserted the importance of the Japanese-US alliance as well as cooperation with partners outside the region for a free and open Indo-Pacific. Furthermore, they also agreed to work towards “complete, verifiable and irreversible” denuclearization of North Korea.

They confirmed their countries’ determination to prevent North Korea from evading sanctions through such means as illegal ship-to-ship transfers and direct shipments of goods banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions. [Japan Today]

For a discussion on how an anti-China and pro-Japan bias on US side “has led to the increasing acceptability of poor conflict management, pushing us toward an unquestioning alliance with Japan that further heightens China’s threat perceptions,” see Su-Mei Ooi in [The Diplomat].

See also the book “Japan Rearmed” by Sheila A. Smith, providing an extensive and intimate account of U.S.-Japan relations. Smith argues that “the Japanese government is reconsidering its dependence on the United States amidst increasing threats from North Korean missiles and Chinese maritime activity around the Senkaku islands.” [Asia Media]

26 January 2021

China-Japan relations: Tensions rise amid Chinese activities in disputed waters

(dql) Japan has submitted a note verbale to the United Nations to express its rejection of China’s baseline claims in the South China Sea and to denounce Beijing’s efforts to limit the freedom of navigation and overflight in this strategically important waterway.

With its recent note, Japan joins a group of countries which have recently taken such a move including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. [United Nations] [Yahoo News] [Radio Free Asia]

The note on the South China Sea was followed by a Japanese protest against China over the latter’s actions in waters surrounding disputed islets in the East China Sea, demanding China to stop intruding into Japanese waters and harassing Japanese fishing boats in the area. [Stars and Stripes]

26 January 2021

Japan: Lawmaker sentenced to jail for vote buying

(dql) Member of Japan’s Upper House Anri Kawai was sentenced to a year and four months in jail, suspended for five years, after she was found guilty of vote buying in the 2019 Upper House election.

The ruling is believed to affect the trial her husband Katsuyuki Kawai, a lawmaker in the Lower and former justice minister, who is accused of conspiring with his wife in handling out money in return for votes in the election. [Mainichi]

26 January 2021

Japan: New punishments for non-compliance with anti-pandemic measures on the table

(dql) Last week, Japan’s Cabinet approved bills allowing punishments for people who do not comply with anti-pandemic measures. Changes would include imprisonment up to one year is foreseen for people who refuse hospitalization or penalties on business operators who ignore orders to cut operating hours. They also grant more power to government and prefectural governors to issue – in Japan rather binding – administrative guidances to medical facilities to accept people infected with the novel coronavirus and allow them to make public the names of the facilities that do not obey.

Japan sees currently a surge of coronavirus infections, with seven out the country’s 47 prefectures under a state of emergency. [Mainichi]

Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s appointed Taro Kono, the country’s administrative reform minister, to coordinate preparations for rollout of the coronavirus vaccine scheduled for end of February. The appointment is widely seen as an attempt’s Suga’s to use Kono’s popularity to halt rapidly-sinking approval ratings over widespread criticism of his handling of the pandemic, currently standing at 34% compared to 74% when he took office four months ago. Kono, the former Foreign and Defence Minister, enjoys a reputation of being effective and was named first choice for prime minister in a recent opinion poll. [Straits Times] [Reuters]

For an explanation why Japan’s Prime Minister clings on hopes of holding the Olympic Games despite rising infections numbers, an unpredictable development of the  pandemic and almost 80% of the population demanding a cancellation or a postponement, see Craig Mark in [The Conversation] who argues he needs the prestigious Games to secure chances at the Liberal Democratic Party leadership election in September, but at the same time warns that “[u]nless the Suga government can quickly tackle the pandemic more effectively, it may soon find hosting the games has slipped beyond its control – and its political fate along with it.”

19 January 2021

Japan: Court declares defunct eugenic law unconstitutional 

(dql) Last week, a Japanese court ruled that Japan’s now-defunct Eugenic Protection Law which mandated the government to prevent people with disabilities from having children was unconstitutional, saying that there was “no room to ‘justify’ the law that infringed on a person’s decision regarding whether to bear or raise a child.”

The court, however, rejected the claim for damages of the plaintiff, who had been sterilized against his will back in 1960. 

Japan’s Eugenic Protection Law, in force between 1948 and 1996, legalized the sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities, mental illnesses or hereditary disorders to prevent the birth of “inferior” children. Under the law, around 25.000 people were sterilized, including around 16.500 who underwent surgery without their consent. [Mainichi]

 

19 January 2021

Japan-South Korea relations: Diplomatic feud over comfort women ruling heats up

(dql) In a recent ruling a South Korean court ordered the Japanese government to pay damages to 12 South Korean “comfort women”. [AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2] Recent official related statements in both countries indicate a further worsening of already highly strained relations.

On the one side, Japan appears not willing to accept the ruling. Japan’s Foreign Ministry called it a “violation of international law,” and demanded that South Korea “take appropriate action to correct,” the court’s decision, adding that it was the responsibility of Seoul to “bring wisdom together” and suggest a solution. Lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party urge the government to take decisive action, suggesting to take South Korea to the International Court of Justice or to delay sending it’s the new ambassador to South Korea. [Kyodo News]

On the other side, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry declared that it respects the court’s decision, and requested Japan to avoid ‘excessive responses’ to the court’s ruling, while South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged Japan to “swiftly work toward ‘future-oriented’ bilateral relations,” and to continue dialogue in spite of pending issues between the two nations. [Korea Times] [Yonhap]

Video talks between both countries’ diplomats held on Friday to discuss the issue ended inconclusive. The press release of the South Korean Foreign Ministry summarized the outcome, stating that both sides agreed on the importance of “continu[ing] communication and dialogue to resolve pending issues,” as well as “close consultations going forward.” [Korea Herald]

19 January 2021

Japan to join US satellite constellation initiative

(dql) Japan’s government has announced that it will consider joining the US “satellite constellation” initiative and contributing to it through the production and launch of some of the satellites used in the system. Japan’s plan to join the initiative is an attempt to respond to the increasing sophistication of new types of missiles in China, Russia and North Korea which are difficult to be intercepted with existing missile defense systems including Chinese and Russian hypersonic missiles and Pyongyang’s missiles which are capable of following irregular trajectories at a low altitude.

In its budget of fiscal year 2021, Tokyo has allocated 1.63 million USD for related surveys and research including on optimal altitudes to detect and track hypersonic glide weapons with the satellite constellation system, along with another 11.5 million USD for the technological development of high-sensitive, small and lightweight infrared ray sensors. 

Washington plans to first launch 20 satellites by 2022 and increase the number to 250 by 2025, with the ultimate goal to deploy more than 1.000 satellites for the detection and tracking of missiles, reconnaissance and monitoring of the ground, and getting a grasp of space debris. [Mainichi]

19 January 2021

China in the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific” 

(dql) Shortly before Joe Biden will be sworn in as US President in this week, the Trump administration declassified and published the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific”, approved by President Trump in 2018 and stamped secret and not for release to foreign nationals until 2043. 

The 10-page national security strategy paper identifies maintaining “U.S. strategic primacy over the Indo-Pacific region,” and promoting “a liberal economic order, while preventing China from establishing new, illiberal spheres of influence and cultivating areas of cooperation to promote regional peace and prosperity” one of three national security challenges, along with North Korea’s threat to the US and its allies as well as the advancement of US global economic leadership. 

Furthermore, the document assumes that the “[s]trategic competition between the United States and China will persists,” with China “circumvent[ing] international norms and rules to gain advantage,” and seeking to “dissolve U.S. alliances and partnerships,” in order to “exploit vacuums and opportunities created by these diminished bonds.”

As an desired outcome with regards to China, the “United States and its partners on every continent” shall become “resistant to Chinese activities aimed at undermining their sovereignty, including through covert or coercive influence.” [White House, USA]

For a concise assessment of what has been achieved under this strategic framework, see Grant Newsham in [Asia Times] who argues that “Trump and his staff are handing off to Joseph Biden an Indo-Pacific that is better off than it was in 2017. 

12 January 2021

Japan: Coronavirus state of emergency declared for Tokyo and neighboring prefectures

(dql) Amid record numbers of new coronavirus infections and ensuing mounting public pressure and demands among his own health experts, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has declared a state of emergency in the greater Tokyo area. 

Companies are ordered to encourage their staff to work from home and reduce office populations by 70%, while residents of the affected areas are called on to avoid non-essential outings. Restaurants must close by 8 p.m. and sporting events have been instructed to limit the number of visitors to 50% of capacity. Schools, however, will remain open.

The emergency measure will be in place for a month for the time being. [CNN] [The Guardian]

12 January 2021

Japan-South Korea relations: South Korea court orders Japanese government to pay compensation to ‘comfort women’

(dql) In a move further escalating already high running tensions between Japan and South Korea over forced labor during Japan’s rule on the Korean peninsula 1910-1945, a South Korean Court has ordered the Japanese government to pay damages of 91.000 USD to each of 12 victims of war-time sexual slavery. 

In 2016, the victims sued the Japanese government in 2016 for kidnapping, sexual violence, and torture during World War II. In its ruling the court acknowledged that they were subjected to dozens of forced sexual acts by Japanese troops every day.  

Japan rejects the ruling, calling it “absolutely unacceptable,” while indicating that it will not comply with it by saying that “the Japanese government was not subject to South Korean jurisdiction.” [The Guardian] [Deutsche Welle][CNN]

 

5 January 2021

Japan, Mexico agree to step up joint efforts to deepen and expand TPP  

(dql) During a meeting on Tuesday, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and his Mexican counterpart Marcelo Ebrard agreed to coordinate their countries’ efforts to enhance the steady enforcement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and expand the 11-party free trade agreement’s membership.

Japan, which succeeded Mexico this year as chair of the regional FTA, is expected to lead talks to expand the group’s membership, with Britain, China and South Korea having recently expressed interest in joining the TPP, while it remains to be seen whether the US will return to the framework under the incoming Biden administration. [Mainichi]

The TPP currently includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. The US withdrew in 2017.

5 January 2021

Japan welcomes naval deployment plans of European powers in the Indo-Pacific

(dql) Japan has welcomed planned naval deployments this year by major European countries to the Indo-Pacific region, including Britain’s aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth and its strike group to East Asia, France’s naval vessel to Japan, and Germany’s frigate to the Indian Ocean – all planned for 2021, according to government announcements and news reports. [Japan Times]

In a related move, during talks between Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi and his German counterpart, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, in late December Japan invited Germany’s warship to hold a joint naval drill with Japan’s Self-Defense Forces in 2021. [WION]

5 January 2021

Japan: No executions of death row inmates in 2020

(dql) Japan’s Ministry of Justice confirmed that in 2020 no death penalties were carried out, the first time since nine years. As of end of December 2020, there were death row inmates in Japan. [Mainichi]

5 January 2021

Japan: Prime Minister expected to declare Covid-19 state of emergency this week

(dql) Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the he will decide this week whether to declare a state of emergency for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures as the areas continue to face record numbers of new coronavirus cases, accounting together for roughly half of about 3.000 daily cases nationwide. 

Tokyo alone reported over 1.200 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, marking the second-highest figure for the capital, after 1.337 cases reported on Dec. 31. The number comes along with a record-high 111 Covid-19 patients in serious condition. 

The four prefectures form one of the world’s most densely populated metropolitan areas, with the constant movement of people around this area posing a big challenge to combatting the spread of the coronavirus. 

Suga is believed to impose a state of emergency for about one month, with details of the policy not disclosed thus far. [Mainichi] [Straits Times]

5 January 2021

Maldives signs debt relief suspension deal with Japan, France, and United States

(lm) In a major relief to an already debt-ridden country, the Maldives has signed a series of agreements with Japan, France, and the United States under the G20 ‘Debt Service Suspension Initiative’ to temporarily suspend debt-service payments owed to bilateral creditors. Earlier in September, the government had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the treatment of debt service suspensions with the representatives of various lenders countries. [The Edition 1] [The Edition 2] [Raajjee.mv]

The economic outlook for the Maldives has deteriorated dramatically in recent months, as the country has been unable to offset the impact of the drastic reduction in tourism activity caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Against the larger backdrop of projections of a more severe and prolonged external liquidity pressures than initially forecasted, Fitch Ratings in November downgraded the country’s credit rating to ‘CCC’ from ‘B’, ranking Malé’s vulnerability to default as ‘a real possibility’. [AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]

Moreover, Malé is estimated to have accumulated $1.5 billion in debt to China, equivalent to 45 percent of the island nation’s national debt. Beijing has already reduced this year’s loan repayment to $75 million from the scheduled $100 million under the G20 ‘Debt Service Suspension Initiative’, and agreed to partially suspend debt repayment applicable to $600 million in loans for a period of approximately four years [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1]. Earlier last month, China then agreed to defer repayment for loans which were secured via state-owned companies [see AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2].

 

5 January 2021

South Korea: Mitsubishi appeals asset seizure court order

(dql) Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has appealed a South Korean court’s order to seize its assets held in South Korea soon after the relevant legal process to compensate victims of Japan’s wartime forced labor took effect late last month. The public notifications to the company entered into force last week after the company failed to comply with a 2018 ruling by the Supreme Court ordering the company to pay compensation to five victims of forced labor during Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula. 

In line with the official stance of the Japanese government, Mitsubishi argues that South Korean citizens cannot make any compensation claims as the reparation issue was fully and finally settled in the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and South Korea. The Korean government, however, insists that the agreement was not intended to settle individual claims against Japan for war crime or crimes against humanity, referring to by documents presented during the negotiations which specifically exclude claims for personal injuries incurred by Japan’s violations of international laws. [Korea Herald] [AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]