Country Report: Japan (February 2020)
Ahead of Xi Jinping’s anticipated visit in spring, one might have expected Japan to be in an upbeat mood toward China, as was the case in advance of Vladimir Putin’s visit in 2016. As in the spate of articles on Russia at that time, the heavy coverage of North Korea early this year, and of South Korea in July to October of this year, China drew intense scrutiny, but it was rarely of the positive sort. The final weeks of 2019 saw an upsurge of negativity toward it.
Abe’s visit to China in late December raised many issues important to Japanese policies in the Indo-Pacific region. He met with Xi Jinping, discussing the terms of the expected Xi state visit to Japan. Meeting Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of the China-Japan-Korea (CJK) summit, Abe explored issues related to ending the Japan-ROK confrontation of 2019. Japanese media also reflected on today’s struggle over economic regionalism, whether the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy. In contrasting Abe and Moon’s talks with Xi, differences in how Hong Kong and Xinjiang were treated entered the narrative, and North Korea was never far from view in media discussions about talks with both China and the ROK. In addition to these countries, Japan was looking at Russia, Taiwan, and India, among others.
In the December 27 Yomiuri, the resistance movement in Hong Kong was rated the most important foreign news event of the year—pointing out, in particular, that China is not responding to demands for democratization and failing to avoid the prolongation of disorder, as the US acts as a deterrent on China’s use of force. Seventh on the list was the Sino-US trade war, linked to security, high tech, and human rights. Failure of Trump to make progress in two meetings with Kim Jong-un ranked sixth, while North Korea’s submarine missile launch and repeated short-range missiles ranked fourth (just below Greta Thunberg’s appeals on climate change at fifth). Trump’s pullout from the Paris agreement ranked third and Notre Dame fire, second. It had been an event-filled year. At year’s end the CJK summit captured the spotlight with China in the forefront, but number one at home (Yomiuri December 23) was the new Reiwa era bringing people the sense of a fresh period.
The United States figured into both positive and negative coverage: criticized roundly for the absence of Trump at the EAS summit early in November and praised for its role in pressuring South Korea to return to GSOMIA later in the month. On the one hand, Washington cared little for the economic order; on the other, it was committed to the regional security order. On December 3 Yabunaka Mitoji in Asahi held up the 1998 ROK-Japan summit as well as the 1965 normalization as steps that had contributed to that order.
When Wang Qishan came to Japan for the Emperor’s enthronement, there was agreement with Abe on further strengthening economic cooperation, but media coverage was dominated by a sense of dissatisfaction over the state of the relationship, especially the arrest of an academic in China for alleged espionage (he was later released). Yomiuri regretted that there was not ample time to discuss such concerns, although on October 24 it highlighted that this visit is paving the way to Xi’s planned April visit. Sankei was the most scathing that day, warning of plans to utilize economic development for military expansionism and control over Asia, as through BRI, while putting a headline under the picture of Abe and Wang calling for a response to the arrest. For Asahi, this issue was accompanied by a mention of the unrest in Hong Kong and conditional BRI support given by Abe at the G20 for high-quality infrastructure only. On October 16 Sankei contrasted its editorial coverage with that of other newspapers, pointing to its human rights focus versus Asahi’s. On October 19 a bold headline on the front page showcased the arrest. Yomiuri on October 22/ 23 stressed the intensified control of information, including testing reporters and editors on Xi’s thought. In the midst of reports that Abe sought improved relations after the G20 summit had been treated as complete restoration of normal relations (Yomiuri, October 20), there were persistent critiques such as Yomiuri’s on October 17 about the 100th anniversary of the birth of Zhao Ziyang, who has not been rehabilitated. No wonder that 85 percent of Japanese do not have a good image of China and even as Chinese are feeling better about bilateral relations—36 percent saying they are bad, a 10 percent improvement—some 45 percent of Japanese view them as bad, a 6 percent drop (Tokyo Shimbun, October 25). This is blamed on repeated negative news coverage.
On the one hand, Yomiuri on October 20 warned that Xi’s “policy of force” is at a dead-end, given the sharp backlash in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the US. On the other, Sankei four days earlier had written that should the US use force against North Korea and US and Japanese forces be focused on a war scenario there, China may well move against Taiwan, the Senkakus, and other targets, taking advantage of the drawdown of US power due to the war on terror and Obama’s cutbacks. Its advice is for Abe to make a bold decision for military talks with Taiwan.
Coverage of Uyghurs locked up as criminals (Sankei, November 19, 25, 28, Asahi, November 26, 29, December 5, December 28, Tokyo Shimbun, November 30, Yomiuri, November 19, December 7), suppression of democracy in Hong Kong (Yomiuri, December 22), religious persecution (Sankei, December 5), and detentions of Japanese citizens in China (Sankei, November 16, Yomiuri, November 16) intensified prior to Abe’s trip to China in late December. In particular, the detention of a Hokkaido University historian became a symbol of injustice of the sort Japanese had long rallied around in bilateral relations, even seen as threatening Xi’s visit to Japan in 2020.
As for the trade war between the US and China, no matter what deal was reached, it was not seen as a basis for optimism, Yomiuri editorialized on December 15. Its series on China’s 70th anniversary stressed the danger of a rising military build-up and threat (November 15, 16). After the INF treaty lost effect in August, Wang Yi’s threats that if Japan (or South Korea) deployed intermediate-range missiles it would have a big impact on bilateral ties—reminiscent of the warnings about THAAD retaliation—led to speculation that after Xi’s visit to Japan the US would push on the missiles and Japan-China relations would be affected (Asahi, November 19). Among the most alarmist articles were a Sankei piece on December 2, arguing that the threat from China exceeded the past one from the Soviet Union, and another on November 26, warning about China’s dream to create an “East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere.” If mention was made of Xi’s stress on anti-protectionism, as in Yomiuri on November 5, it was interpreted as a ploy to contain the US, not as a serious move to win states to his cause.
Against the backdrop of intensified negative reporting on China, a movement to disinvite Xi was stirring in Tokyo. It was led by right-wing Diet members and drew encouragement from media on the right and the left. Yomiuri was more cautious, but it raised concerns on November 7 that the visit would not bring a genuine improvement in relations, implying that because China must improve relations with Japan in light of the long-term tensions with the US over trade Japan can raise sensitive issues, attentive that China may just intend to put them aside. On November 16 it warned that if the Hokkaido professor’s detention was not resolved Xi’s state visit would prove difficult. Sankei was the most aggressive on November 25 and 26, attacking those in the LDP who are soft on China (shinchuha), endangering ties with the US, charging that they are not proceeding strategically, and demanding a fundamental rethinking of their approach to China. Sankei added that a state visit is a great honor, according Xi the second Reiwa invitation after Trump. Given a list of China’s offensive policies, which Japan cannot overlook, it registered strong opposition to Xi Jinping’s visit. On December 8 its reporter Komori Yoshihisa observed that the Trump administration is concerned about Abe drawing closer to China, but it expects the policy to fail. Since China is Japan’s gravest threat, the visit would be a dangerous symbol. In a Tokyo Shimbun editorial on December 23, no hope was found for really improving relations amid a call for making sure that any official fifth document was truly forward-looking on the many sensitive issues on strategic matters and human rights abuses.
The Abe-Xi meeting was accompanied with this debate over the state visit in the headlines, as in Yomiuri on December 24. Sankei on December 26 insisted that conditions do not exist for a state visit and a new era in relations due to human rights and militarization. For Yomiuri, the focus was on the Senkakus and arrests, while on December 24 it editorialized that for genuine cooperation at the summit a platform should be built for long-term relations as it warned of no real improvement on security in the South China Sea and a host of other issues which had led to persistent criticism within the LDP regarding the state visit invitation to Xi. It was up to China to create conditions which would make the visit successful. In its December 26 editorial Tokyo Shimbun continued to oppose the summit, saying that the goal was not “smiles.” Yomiuri the previous day also pointed to China not mentioning India in its push to complete RCEP, to differences over North Korea, and to concerns over the state visit. The next day it linked the warm hospitality Xi showed to Abe in Beijing to Xi’s undeclared goal of containing the US.
Prior to the January election in Taiwan, the Japanese media anticipated Tsai Ing-wen’s victory with little expectation of any change in direction. Sankei carried a series on Lee Teng-hui, pointing to efforts he made to keep advanced technology from being transferred to the mainland and to leaving behind a forum for security talks with the US and Japan even if it proceeded in secret (December 14 and 18). Yomiuri Shimbun on December 16 warned that by not respecting popular will and oppressing Hong Kong, China was inviting an unfavorable outcome for itself on Taiwan. Anticipating Tsai Ing-wen’s reelection, this editorial blamed China for alienating young people, who see what “one country, two systems” brings, and causing her KMT opponent to drop in support, as he is seen as part of the “pro-China group.” Han Guo-yu’s call for better relations with China to boost tourism and agricultural exports is not resonating. Meanwhile, in the face of US sanctions on China, Taiwanese companies are returning from China—also a blow to Han. China is interfering in the elections by sending an aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait and trying to shape public opinion through the Internet, but it should realize that pressure has the opposite effect. Trump offers support for Tsai, as in the sale of F16 fighters, and Taiwan cannot avoid being drawn into the intensifying Sino-US confrontation. Japan must attend to the impact on the situation in East Asia of the election results, and the policy to come in the US.
A Mainichi editorial on December 16 on Taiwan’s forthcoming election also stressed how much the fate of Taiwan influences the regional situation and how much the chaos in Hong Kong is aiding Tsai’s reelection. Yet, the rise of a third party shows dissatisfaction with both leading parties, even as China steps up the pressure on Tsai and raises concern that it will do more to apply pressure. If the pressure is counterproductive, economic ties to China are a live-or death matter. Supply chains are being rerouted due to the Sino-US conflict. The editorial calls for China to respect the will of the Taiwan people and for Japan to be sensitive to Sino-Taiwan relations and changes in Taiwan since stability in the Taiwan Strait is indispensable for Japan.
Sankei on August 29 reported the views of the head of the Tsai Ing-wen fan club, calling for Tsai to visit Japan at the earliest possible date. It noted that she has been to the US multiple times and that the Sino-US trade war has given Taiwan a chance, which should be seized. To deepen Japanese understanding of Taiwan, the article calls for Tsai’s visit to take place. On December 25, Sankei commented on Taiwan’s hot economy, attracting firms (many Taiwan-owned) leaving the PRC, while competing with Southeast Asian states. Many Japanese firms are also seeking to leave China and may be considering more cooperation with Taiwan.
Japanese-South Korean relations
On October 18, Asahi revealed the secret decision on June 20 to impose export controls on South Korea, but to delay the announcement until after the G20 summit, where Abe, as the host, would emphasize the importance of free trade, but before the Diet elections in late July, when Abe would look strong in defending Japan’s interests against a target guilty of offending Japan.
Whereas Seoul sought a return to relations in June 2019, Tokyo sought a recommitment to the agreement of 1965—the legal foundation of postwar relations. Moon Jae-in’s eagerness for an agreement was widely reported, e.g., in Yomiuri on October 25, as was Japan’s view that Moon was under pressure from falling public support, economic stagnation, and US dissatisfaction. To the moment a deal was reached reversing Moon’s plan to quit GSOMIA, Japan was confident. If progressives were more eager for mutual accommodation, e.g., in Asahi on October 25, holding the line was demanded by conservatives. Asahi on October 11 explained that the roots of the Japan-ROK dispute trace to the agreement worked out after 14 grueling years of negotiations in 1965, when a weak South Korea facing a stronger North Korea needed Japan’s assistance and cut a deal not resolving the legality of Japan’s control over the peninsula or satisfying the desire for individual compensation. Today’s problems are traced back, but this fails to resonate.
On September 19 Sankei reported that despite South Korean tourism being cut in half in August, increases in Chinese tourism (for a second month running in excess of one million) as well as in others had compensated to a degree. Of course, that proceeded the epidemic in 2020.
Tokyo Shimbun took the lead in seeking a compromise, reminding readers on October 11 of a path forward through compensation from Japanese companies, which are seeking an early resolution. Yet, it regrets Moon’s dissolution of the fund established in 2015 for the “comfort women” as a step in the wrong direction. On October 24 it followed with a commentary on a joint statement from a recent meeting of a joint Japan-ROK media association calling for self-restraint by the media in both countries from arousing hate, which is often amplified on social media. As “hate Korea” is spreading and Korean media encourage boycotts of Japanese products, the opinion piece appeals for a “cooldown.”
Asahi on October 19 carried a series of articles on the true nature of “hate Korea.” For Suzuki Daisuke right-wing voices on the Internet abound in attacking China and Korea, as well as Korean dramas, and demean women. Compensating for a sense of what has been lost in Japan, people such as his deceased father have been swayed by exclusionary rhetoric. For Abe Hiroyuki, “wideshows” on television are the culprit, influencing middle-aged and older people in place of hard news on television and newspapers. Younger people rarely watch television, getting their news on the internet and feeling more neutral toward South Korea. Kimura Kan offers more detail about the rise of “hate Korea” over more than a decade. While some used to perceive an anti-Japan triangle, China grew too powerful and such talk about it faded, and North Korea could not be influenced so it faded as a target. That left only South Korea. With China overtaking Japan’s economy, South Korea became the target that could not be allowed to catch up after it has drawn close in GDP per capita and military expenses, while trade with Japan has fallen from 40 percent of its total to 7 percent. Japanese have responded with talk of cutting ties since they cannot bring it to its knees, Kimura concluded.
The meeting between Abe and the Korean prime minister on October 24 drew coverage the next day highlighting Seoul’s urgency for a deal and Abe’s resolute response, allotting only 10 minutes to the visitor for the Emperor’s accession. As Sankei reported, the ball is on Korea’s side, denying Korean assertions that this could be a turning point. Lee Nak-yeon’s meeting with Japanese business leaders led Yomiuri to recall how economic diplomacy had smoothed ties. Lee had been a correspondent in Tokyo in the 1990s and was known as sympathetic to Japan, but the paper stressed the ROK’s troubled economy with parts shortages, rising unemployment, and the adverse impact of the Sino-US trade war. Time is on Japan’s side was the clear message.
The response to the Abe-Moon meeting in late December was revealing. Asahi stressed the need for Japan-ROK and trilateral cooperation, explaining on December 29 that the US-ROK alliance and the US forces in Korea are vital to Japan. It had found promise in the Chengdu meeting in a December 25 editorial and articles: saying leaders agreed on fulfilling a responsibility for the future and avoiding danger, arguing that both sides should make big concessions, recognizing that both countries are suffering considerable economic damage and seeking urgency. In Tokyo Shimbun on December 26, voices expressed optimism about the great significance of the meeting. One said that with the US-North Korean impasse, Seoul and Tokyo feel a need to work together. Yet two days later, the paper doubted that any progress had been achieved even if its editorial on December 25 insisted on continuing efforts and called for Japan to relax sanctions.
After Japanese and ROK officials met for ten hours to discuss Japan’s export controls, readers found different responses on December 18 from Mainichi and Sankei. The progressive side reviewed Japan’s position that ROK export controls are inadequate but noted that personnel are being increased to do this job. It took heart from declarations that mutual understanding had been increased and further talks were planned, noting the absence of mud-slinging this time around. Meanwhile, Japan is not making resolution conditional on ROK handling of the labor restitution issue and South Korea’s National Assembly, despite rejection by NGOs, is now exploring an alternate payment fund. Given the growing tension due to North Korea’s threats of a “Christmas gift,” Mainichi raised hope for a renewal of the Japan-ROK partnership. In contrast, Sankei stressed the big gulf that remains and the time it would take to narrow it. Even if there are more personnel, the South Korean export control system remains a problem, as Japan’s exports get forwarded around the world. The real issue is trust, which is linked to the labor and “comfort women” issues. Thus, it will be difficult to find some compromise.
Sankei found no promise in talks with Seoul, insisting on December 5 that only resolving the history divide would improve ties, warning on December 22 that no resolution is in sight in the “worst” Japan-ROK relations ever and blaming Seoul for joining with Beijing in weakening a bloc against North Korea, and charging on December 25 that Moon has no intention to improve ties and that differences over security are the essence of the split that are not being addressed. In Sankei on December 26, there was also stress on the wide gulf over North Korea.
Japanese media took a wait-and-see attitude toward North Korea, expecting nothing positive.
Yomiuri on December 23 covered the failure to enforce the Security Council deadline to send back North Korean workers, blaming China and Russia, which only a week before had called on the council to allow those workers to remain and to work. Pointing to Liaoning province, where groups of 10-30 women work in electronics parts assembly, fisheries, and textiles, the article asserted that they come on short-term but renewable visas for cultural exchanges and tourism and then work for low wages. While at least 23,000 of about 100,000 North Korean laborers had been sent back from various countries, and China had reported in March that half of its 50,000 laborers had gone back while Russia’s total had dropped from 30,000 to 11,000, the article found evidence that through subterfuges China and Russia were still using these workers, as on student visas in Vladivostok, allowing funds to go to developing North Korean weapons. Another Yomiuri article that day gave the testimony of North Korean workers in Russia about unofficial, second jobs, income they had to share with their government, bribes, and the sharp rise in 2019 of student visas, which would permit working even if illegal according to the UN.
Other newspapers covered the same story. Tokyo Shimbun on December 22 focused on the border city of Dandong, where Chinese workers continue to work, arguing that when US talks with North Korea reached an impasse in 2019 China boosted its presence supporting the North. Asahi the next day covered the return of workers from Vladivostok, who exchanged rubles for dollars before boarding a flight, as more North Korean flights were added to accommodate the rush to return. The adjacent articles paint a different picture for China, allowing continued work on non-work visas for tourism and study and describing workers in Jilin province returning to the North in the morning and then crossing the Yalu by bus to go back to China in the afternoon. As many as 20 buses with 500 workers in a single day are observed. Given China’s veto power, methods are limited to stop these violations of a Security Council regulation. The paper notes too how after the North’s GDP fell in 2018 by 4 percent, China has prevented a crisis, notably after Xi Jinping’s visit in June 2019 by expanding food assistance and tourism to the North, while boosting trade. On the surface, North Korea is running a large trade deficit, but both smuggling and the boom in Chinese visitors in 2019 has made the difference.
Sankei on December 18 bluntly asserted that China’s increased support for the North is a “card” to win concessions from the US on trade after agreeing to sanctions but undermining their impact. On November 24 Yomiuri reported on diplomacy in Moscow as indicating that Russia is drawing closer to North Korea, seeking to contain the US and planning with China on how to proceed.
The paper notes too how after the North’s GDP fell in 2018 by 4 percent, China has prevented a crisis, notably after Xi Jinping’s visit in June 2019 by expanding food assistance and tourism to the North, while boosting trade. On the surface, North Korea is running a large trade deficit, but
Lacking confidence in Trump and Moon, Japanese speculate on developments ahead in 2020. In Yomiuri on January 3, it was proposed that Moon would agree to reopening Kumgangsan in return for Kim Jong-un visiting Seoul in advance of the April 15 National Assembly elections, and that Trump would reduce sanctions in order to declare success prior to US elections. Yet the article warned that a crossroads will be reached in March. US-ROK joint military exercises could be resumed, leading to a nuclear test or ICBM launch, crossing a red line. Uncertainty lies ahead, and Japan can do little but wait. That same day Tokyo Shimbun reported on Kim’s harder posture and suggested that it was connected to strengthened ties to China and Russia, adding that Moon lost his role as go-between. Sankei that day editorialized that Abe must stop his soft talk about Kim and recognize that the only way forward in maximum pressure. Yet, hosting the ASEAN states in Busan in November, as part of the New Southern Policy to diversify diplomacy beyond four states, was treated as recognition of ASEAN’s importance, of the need to respond to Chinese pressure and overdependence since 2017, and of value in diplomacy over North Korea. Yomiuri on November 26 stressed Moon’s desire to escape from dependency on China.
The 60th anniversary in December of boatloads leaving from Japan for “heaven on earth” in North Korea elicited a string of reports, especially in Sankei, on the hell of life in the North for those who went there, including stories from a few who finally escaped. On December 12 Yomiuri covered the story under the headings “Return to North Korea” and “Memories of Hell.”
Koizumi Yu’s new book drew commentary in Japan for reinforcing growing attention to the return of geopolitics as well as identity with stress on Eurasia, as reported in Yomiuri on November 4. This was just one more sign that regionalism no longer inspired Japan’s idealism.
The death of Russia specialist Kimura Hiroshi was covered on November 16 in Sankei as an opening to remind readers of the mistake of negotiating with Russia given Putin’s thinking and Japan’s abandonment of principles. Yomiuri on November 20 presented Hakamada Shigeki’s take on Kimura’s longstanding warnings against Japan’s muddled Russia policy, criticizing the completely negative legacy of Abe’s negotiations with Putin. Kimura saw Putin as a man who could not be trusted. Kimura had warned against compromise, Tokyo Shimbun on November 16 asserted, and that Russia would not do so. The January issue of Seiron stressed Kimura’s legacy of warning about Sino-Russian relations as well as insisting on the historical righteousness of the return of four islands. Saito Tsutomu reviewed many of Kimura’s writings, essentially paying tribute to a career as a conservative commentator with Russia as his pervasive preoccupation.
Sankei on December 8 saw the completion of the “Power of Siberia” pipeline as boosting the “Sino-Russian honeymoon” and the energy part of the “quasi alliance.” After 8 years of talks Russia in 2014 had set aside concerns of being the “junior partner” to make a deal from weakness, treating the agreement as political in opposition to the United States Many now take the Sino-Russian relationship more seriously than in earlier hopes for Moscow seeking balance.
On December 7 Konstantin Kosachev in Asahi asserted that the reason talks have not advanced is that the security situation has deteriorated and public opinion is negatively aroused. Now there is fear that post-INF deployments will lead Russia to feel threatened; Japan and South Korea should reject US missiles. He sees a fundamental divide between the views of people in the two states. Russian commentators in Japanese newspapers offered no optimism but warnings for Japan.
Some in Japan kept the illusion alive that progress was being made on the return of islands from Russia. A Komeito Diet member on December 13 in Yomiuri found the most progress in travel of the former island residents, attributing progress to stable leadership in both states. Yet
on December 14 a representative from the Minshuto called for a reset of relations with Russia, noting that in plans for joint economic activities in tourism and fishing Japan is in danger of recognizing Russia’s effective control of the islands, as Russia only seeks economic support.
Yomiuri on December 11 recognized that talks on territory are at a stalemate despite Putin’s call for accelerating them and Abe’s effective pigeonholing of four island demands. Russia has put more stress on history and is using the Japan-US alliance as a card.
On December 21 Yomiuri tried to be upbeat about relations after Putin’s year-end press conference, headlining that the two sides were groping for a hikiwake solution. They were building trust and Putin had denied having an alliance with China. Yet the substance of the article was far from hopeful, noting Russian alarm about the Japan-US alliance, the impact of the end of the INF treaty, possible follow-up deployments by the US, Russian public opinion and thinking that the transfer of two islands would not be a “draw” but a win for Japan.
Sankei on December 20 worried that the new stress on economic ties in talks with Russia would lead to shelving the territorial issue. It pointed to Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu’s past positions and his role as a pipe to industrial circles and Russia seeking a large-scale economic zone linking Hokkaido and the Russian Far East. It also noted Japan’s heavy dependence on oil from the Middle East, which is now in turmoil. More LNG from Russia would allow diversification, but there is no guarantee that it would be linked to advances in territorial talks. Despite Abe and Putin in Singapore in November 2018 agreeing on accelerating talks, Russia is in no hurry on the territorial issue. Meanwhile the opening of archives on diplomacy in 1955 made clear US pressure on Japan, leading to the enduring territorial problem with Moscow, as reported by Asahi on December 26. On December 21 Motegi met with Lavrov, and Yomiuri the next day warned about the risk in losing balance between economic cooperation and territorial talks.
On December 25 Yomiuri reported from new foreign ministry archival releases on the visit of Nakasone to Moscow in 1988 and Gorbachev’s frustration that Japan insisted on four islands rather than two. This was a turning point for better bilateral relations, but the article leaves for the reader to recognize that it was also a missed opportunity given Japan’s reversal under Abe. There is no hint of optimism that a third of a century later Moscow will make a deal.
On October 9 Yomiuri wrote about the new acquisition and cross-servicing agreement with India, strengthening military cooperation in advance of Abe’s planned visit to India in late December. It would lead to joint exercises and smooth cooperation in disaster relief, but stress is put on tighter coordination with India to contain China’s advance in the East and South China seas and the Indian Ocean. This will be accompanied by the first 2+2 meetings of the two states and progress in the FOIP initiative. Drawing attention to India later were the 2+2 meeting, a format only used by India with the US previously, and India’s decision not to join RCEP, which was not met with understanding but regret. There was talk of Japan urging it to reconsider, as in Yomiuri on December 7 and Asahi on December 12, recognizing that India is indispensable for Japan and without it, China’s influence would further increase. It noted, too, that China is in a rush to sign the agreement with just the 15 remaining states, excluding the US. This leaves Japan in a quandary, as Yomiuri recognized on November 6, although it was not seen as refusing RCEP. Yet, on December 23 Sankei found disharmony in the CJK on RCEP.