Asia in Review Archive 2021


Date of AiR edition

News summary

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] []

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]