Country Report: Japan (April 2021)
In the first quarter of 2021, Japanese coverages turned from assessing 2020 to anticipating Biden’s impact to taking satisfaction in Biden’s initial moves toward Japan and China. With diplomatic travel on hold, for the most part, its resumption in March and early April showcased Japan-US relations. A virtual Quad summit, followed by the 2+2 US-Japan meeting in Tokyo, the Alaska meeting of US and Chinese officials, and the Suga summit with Biden—who was hosting his first foreign leader—offered a heady array of occasions to reassure Japan and boost Suga’s diplomatic image.
The Biden administration’s decisions to prioritize Japan as the most important US ally, to forge what some called a “G2” focused on solidifying US-Japan ties rather than achieving a breakthrough with China, and to put the Quad—long championed by Japan—at the center of its Indo-Pacific strategy, all raised Japan’s profile. Nervous in the transition period after Biden won the presidential election, Japanese foreign policy experts soon awakened to the satisfying policy choices made by Biden, but they also had to consider some challenges on the horizon.
In the December 2020 issue of Koken, Yachi Shotaro discussed the international impact of the pandemic and Japanese diplomacy. He divided his remarks in three: 1) a look back at diplomacy in the second Abe administration; 2) a review of changes in the world situation owing to the pandemic; and 3) an outlook on the prospects for the Biden administration’s foreign policy and Suga’s diplomacy. Having served for 5 years, 8 months as the first national security secretariat (NSS) head, Yachi had much to recall and interpret. Yachi explained that Abe’s primary goal was constitutional reform for which he needed broad popular support, which required economic revival encapsulated in Abenomics, long-term political stability under one prime minister, and improved relations with neighboring countries, especially China. In 2012 as Abe’s term began, relations had deteriorated with South Korea, while the abductee issue was also looming as a personal challenge for Abe. Personal to Abe was also the desire to resolve the Northern Territory and peace treaty issues lingering with Russia. Inspiring in his guiding language, Abe was energetic in his travels beyond anything seen from prior prime ministers of Japan. Abe also made a great contribution to strengthening the Japan-US alliance to its historical zenith. Yachi was very laudatory about Abe’s achievements, most of which were Yachi’s in no small part.
Japan-China relations enjoyed a nice atmosphere before the pandemic, but China’s aggressive attitude over Hong Kong and Taiwan set things back. Yet Wang Yi’s recent visit to Japan may set the stage to get things improving again, Yachi observed. As for South Korean relations, they remain at their worst. Japan cannot accept the current situation, and relations are at a dead-end. Later, Yachi argued that Seoul keeps moving the goalposts, and Tokyo must stop that, insisting on ties between equal, sovereign states. On North Korea, they are at a standstill too, and the North disregards Japan’s sincere approach. On Russia, despite all of Abe’s overtures, its attitude gradually hardened, and it now has no will to resolve the problem. On the territorial issue, Russia insists that Japan recognize that all four islands are Russian as a result of WWII, which is unacceptable and turns history on its head; it demands too that all foreign troops be withdrawn from Japan, ending the Japan-US Security Treaty; and it insists on unconditional agreement to a peace treaty before territorial discussions can proceed. On these stagnant relationships, whatever Japan does, the other side will simply harden its position is what Japan understands. Yachi paints a grim picture on ties across Northeast Asia, except for China, which is odd since Yachi has led the way to countering China as Japan’s main, growing security threat.
Turning to security, Yachi credits Abe with a major success, greatly raising Japan’s presence in international society, filling the gap when the US pulled back from the world and essentially forging an alliance with Great Britain. As Sino-US relations have worsened, Japan’s import has grown. It has built closer ties to India, Australia, ASEAN, and EU countries. Moreover, by creating the NSS, now with about 100 employees, Abe has accelerated Japan’s decision-making process. Abe’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” is a successor to his “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity,” which had offered a positive and more appealing target than the US anti-terrorism “arc of instability.” Already in August 2007 Abe spoke of India at the confluence of two seas, anticipating FOIP. An academic debate is unfolding over whether we are entering a new cold war. Yachi argues that now is clearly not like the Cold War because there is no ideological conflict and no economic decoupling despite an historically repeated conflict of an existing superpower and challenger.
Yachi sees Biden differing from Trump in his support of US leadership and multilateralism, facing China not with bilateral deals but with collective economic strategy, cooperating with China on issues such as climate change and health, strengthening alliances rather than being softer toward adversaries, stabilizing the Japan-US alliance as the foundation, and improving cooperation with Japan on trade, perhaps leading back to the TPP. The News Dairy Yachi warns that China is expansionist and threatens its neighbors, and when he is asked hopefully whether change will occur as economic growth inevitably slows, he insists that it is self-confident about becoming number one and stirred by memories of its past empire, but it has no soft power. Thus, even if diplomacy with China has some promise, Japan is concentrating on building resistance to it.
Reflecting on what kind of power Japan is, Yachi notes that in 1990 some saw it as the next superpower, but today it should be considered a major power due to its economy, active diplomacy, and alliance and quasi-alliance support with countries of shared values. Suga will provide political stability, further strengthening the alliance with the US and sustaining healthy relations with China. Yachi adds, at odds with his main message, that it is important for Suga to maintain a balance between them. While the US alliance is important, so too is actualization of the Quad, he explains. ASEAN, Great Britain, France, and Germany are identified as parts of the FOIP valued by Japan. Popular of late in Japan is the idea of “economic national security” (keizai anzen hosho). Its meaning varies, including using the economy for protecting security or even damaging China for the sake of Japan’s national security as through sanctions or Trump-like tariffs. Yet caution is needed. Yachi mentions Huawei 5G and supply chains, as well as the need to beef up a system of security clearances to cooperate with the US on R&D. Overall, Yachi balances alarm over Chinese cyberattacks with awareness of China’s vast market and the value of improved ties achieved by Abe. He opposes the decoupling advocated by some in the US, and, unlike some in Japan, he does not express reservations about Biden being soft on China. The Byte News
Yomiuri Shimbun reported on March 14 that five countries, including Japan, the US, Australia India, and France, have entered into final adjustments in early April to conduct joint maritime training in the Bay of Bengal off the coast of India for the first time. Although mention of this is not included in the Quad joint statement, there is no doubt that it is part of the Quad agreement,
France will participate, almost as if France is an observer in the Quad. The UK plans to send a carrier strike group to the South China Sea, suggesting that the UK will join in the near future.
Circumstances on the Indian side, which is wary of arousing China, have obscured this outcome, but it is the reality of a rapidly strengthening security arrangement, the article is suggesting.
On March 14 Sankei also editorialized about the Quad, noting that the main purpose is to deter China, which is now strengthening hegemony against the backdrop of its powerful military and economic power. Looking ahead to Suga’s April summit in Washington, it said, he should point out that the Maritime Police Law, allowing China’s ships to use weapons, “contains problematic provisions from the perspective of international law.” No brute force marine advance or attempt to justify it can be allowed. Sankei embraced human rights criticisms of China, welcoming the concern Suga has shown over the National People’s Congress decision on Hong Kong’s electoral system and the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Biden is praised for proposing the summit, as an expression of his administration’s determination to deter China, his emphasis on relations with Japan, and his willingness to utilize the Quad.
On March 16 Asahi editorialized about the Quad, saying the framework should not raise tensions in the region and bring about division. It must contribute to the stability of the international order. Asahi welcomed the fact that the United States has changed its unilateralism during the former presidential era to a diplomacy that emphasizes involvement in Asia and alliances. However, it seems that the siege against China will be strengthened, and if countermeasures are taken, the conflict will escalate. This clearly would be a worrisome outcome for Asahi, which cites the view in China that the Quad will lead to the “Indo-Pacific version of NATO.” The advice offered is to clarify that the Quad is a cooperative relationship that sets it apart from the military. While restraining China’s actions to challenge the existing order, such as forcible marine advancement in the South and East China Sea, is approved, the desired goal should be to continue dialogue and aim for coexistence through cooperation. Persistent diplomatic efforts are required, the editorial concludes.
On March 19 in Gendai Business the Quad was reassessed, noting five issues: 1) holding joint military exercises of the four countries, 2) strengthening information exchanges, 3) coordinating sanctions against China, 4) opposing China’s suppression of human rights, and 5) preparing for the Beijing Olympics next winter. However, none of the five items were included in the joint statement. The only concrete result was expansion of vaccine supply to developing countries in the Indo-Pacific region, which meant the other three countries giving India the funding to bring it in since it was reluctant to attend the summit. This is a skeptical outlook on the Quad’s results, seen as insufficient in contrast to the general praise and the wariness from some progressives.
JB Press on March 11 commented on the Maritime Police Law in China. It noted Wang Yi’s remarks on the bilateral relationship. “It should be mature, stable, and maintain that situation, and should not be affected by a single event, for example, the China-promulgated and enforced ‘Marine Police Law’ you just mentioned. This is a kind of ordinary domestic law, not intended for a specific country, and is in perfect agreement with international law and practice…I hope that Japanese society will truly establish an objective and rational perception of China, and that it will truly lay the foundation for the interests of the people who will stabilize Sino-Japanese relations in the future. Just as you said, China and Japan are about to host the Olympics before and after. Both sides will fully support each other, hold a grand event together, make both Olympics a platform to deepen friendship between the two peoples, and use it as an opportunity to develop and promote Sino-Japanese relations.” Wang Yi’s remarks were taken as more a plea to the PLA than to Japan, showing Xi Jinping’s intention to visit Japan, which is understood to depend on no incident occurring in the Senkaku Islands that could arouse Japan, readers are told.
On March 17 Yomiuri editorialized about the 2+2 meeting in Tokyo on the need to prevent China from using force to change the status quo. This quick follow-up to the Quad summit sent a clear message to China that Japan and the US would not countenance unilateral Chinese behavior to change the existing order. Noting how Trump belittled alliances, it credits Biden’s administration with the highly significant steps of positively pursuing “FOIP” together with Japan, cooperating with Australia, India, and Southeast Asian nations to solidify a rules-based international order, and intensifying alarm over China as the sole competitor now challenging an open international system. The risk has grown that China will attempt to change the situation in Taiwan by force. Moreover, if this occurred, the balance in the Indo-Pacific would be broken with a severe impact on Japan. It is important for concrete steps to be taken to strengthen the alliance’s deterrent effect and contain China. Before Abe resigned, he was considering missile defense, and Suga should carry forward a concrete discussion. When Suga visits the White House in the first foreign leader summit for Biden, for success, there should be a sense of urgency in strengthening the alliance.
Mainichi on March 23 responded to the tense Sino-US meeting in Alaska with an appeal to avoid a new cold war. The US side was credited with showing consideration to allies such as Japan, which are concerned about China’s actions in the East China Sea, and emphasizing differences with the Trump administration. Yet, the editorial worried that higher tensions will have a negative impact on recovery of the global economy from the pandemic and that we need a mechanism to control the conflict and avoid the development of a “New Cold War.” To alleviate the conflict, China needs to review its external hardline stance and show self-restraint. The United States should not aim for a “China siege network” like during the Cold War. No country wants to be forced to choose between the United States and China, Mainichi concluded.
Gendai Business on March 22 said that the blame battle between the US and China is the start of a new cold war. In Alaska the Biden administration confronted China after confirming that the Japan-US-Australia-India Quad was functioning properly. The conflict between the US and China’s views is also a conflict between Japan, the United States, Australia and India on one side, that is democracy, versus one-party dictatorship. The article ventured that it is hard to say when the Chinese economy will be suffocated, but from the rules of thumb of social science so far, it seems that the limit of growth is approaching. Now that China’s per capita GDP has finally reached about $10,000, what will happen next? China’s democracy index is 2.27, and the probability of maintaining its current level of GDP for 20 years is quite low, it was argued.
On March 25 in Newsweek Japan Kawato Akio wrote about BRI. In 2019 it had fallen from $75 billion to $3.9 billion in infrastructure investment. China has a debt overload at home. Central Asia and Russia are problematic routes. The AIIB has barely a third of the annual capital of the Japan-US-led ADB. BRI has lost its magical power. But China’s diplomacy is not retreating, as it continues to rack up big trade surpluses with the US, giving it confidence, warned Kawato.
On April 1 Newsweek Japan reported on China’s media warning Japan against siding with the US on Taiwan, just weeks before Suga’s planned summit with Biden. Huanqiu Shibao sent this warning on March 30. According to a report in Nikkei Asia, a joint statement is planned stressing the need for stability in the Taiwan Strait, which led to the warning that China would retaliate against Japan, causing it to lose much more than it gains. 50 years have passed since a Japan-US joint statement has mentioned Taiwan. Should a conflict develop between China and Taiwan, neighboring states will not be able to avoid the fallout. Japan’s westernmost island is just 11 km from Taiwan. Peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait were mentioned in the recent Japan-US 2+2 statement. An unconfirmed report after the meeting is that Japan has agreed to cooperate closely with the US should a military clash occur there. According to a Taiwan analyst nearly thirty years ago, Japan and the US unofficially discussed Japan’s role in preventing a conflict. Now it will be made unambiguous, while also affirming the application of the security treaty to the Senkakus. If China were to occupy Taiwan and control the nearby area, Japan’s maritime transport would be endangered. Huanqiu Shibao indicated that Suga plans to seek reelection in the fall on the basis of defending against a China threat. The Taiwan analyst observes that to suppress domestic discontent, China is boosting nationalism with military expansionism, even if that rallies other countries against it. The impression is of a train wreck drawing ever closer.
In the March/April Gaiko Akimoto Satohiro wrote about Biden’s foreign policy doctrine and China policy, saying he is anti-Trump but carrying forward a hard line toward China. The US engages with international society by leading it; the US promotes democracy and other political values; it positively contributes to pandemic control, to climate change efforts. and to other international issues; it works closely with allies; and it values policy experts. On China, there is a sharp break with the policies of Obama despite personnel overlap. The alliance with Japan is the pillar in facing the direct security threat from China, while the mood is upbeat about forging a free and open international order, but one cannot be optimistic about future ties to China. It became clear that before Biden meets with Xi Jinping he will consult with the Quad states and Taiwan, while he is taking concrete actions for the defense of Taiwan. Yet policy toward China is not established. While two groups share alarm about China’s behavior, they differ in how to respond. One would avoid an ideological clash; the other would take more risks while deepening alliance ties and breaking more with Obama policies. There is debate over whether security or climate change should be prioritized, as John Kerry did as secretary of state. Akimoto points to Kurt Campbell, who understands the Japan-US alliance, as having a big say on China policy, but the administration dislikes calling him the Indo-Pacific “tsar.” Noting the possible importance of Congress, Akimoto warns of leftists pressuring on human rights, as on Myanmar, which could push it to China. He concludes that as the first foreign leader to visit the White House, Suga has a great opportunity to present Japan’s strategic viewpoint and ensure that the two countries are completely in unison on the current situation in the Indo-Pacific region.
On April 11 in Bunshun online Nakanishi Terumasa wrote that Biden plays a constructive role after the destruction by the Trump administration, while promoting the work of formulating a new strategy for China. The March 16 in-depth joint statement—claiming “China’s actions that are inconsistent with the existing international order pose political, economic, military and technical challenges to the Japan-US alliance and the international community”—criticized China more severely than prior 2+2 statements and contrasted to the “US-Korea 2+2” two days later, which avoided naming China at the request of the South Korean side, showing the difference in their strategic positions to the international community. The article singled out totalitarianism from North Korea launching missiles and Russia conducting military drills on the Northern Territories as making shows of force to shape dialogue, but it stresses China’s “Maritime Police Law” as especially dangerous because it states that China can forcibly eliminate warships and patrol boats from other countries, capture them, and take all measures, including the use of weapons, where China considers them to be “jurisdiction areas.” The aim is to keep Japanese coast guard patrol boats away from the area around the Senkaku Islands and secure effective control, which would make the Japan-US Security Treaty, Article 5, no longer applicable.
The Japan-US 2+2 joint statement stated that both would emphasize “the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait” and cooperate to protect the current situation in Taiwan. It shows that Washington’s sense of crisis over a Taiwan emergency is much stronger than it was a year ago. What we have to think about is the reaction of China. In particular, if Japan deepened its involvement in the Taiwan Strait issue and further criticized the human rights issues in Uighurs and Hong Kong, China would not be silent. There will be some countermeasures or counterattacks. Already visible are new signs of the unity of China and Russia to counter the Biden administration. They criticized the United States in a joint statement saying, “Each country should oppose the politicization of human rights issues.” Europe, which has been more pro-Chinese than Japan, is seriously moving to deter China, centered on NATO. Not only Britain and France, but also Germany, has begun to dispatch naval vessels to the South China Sea.
Suga’s visit to the United States is an important finishing touch to the Biden administration’s China diplomacy, based on the achievements of the “Quad” and “Japan-US 2 + 2”. If the Japan-US summit meeting can show the same attitude toward China as the “Japan-US 2+2” in line with the strong policy of the United States, what will be China’s reaction? If the issue with China is successfully handled, future Japanese diplomacy will be able to hold hands with the United States, maintain economic relations between Japan and China, and deter China’s movements to a certain extent in terms of security. However, relying on the military power of the United States while earning money in China will not work forever, the article concludes.
Kawashima Shin and Masuo Chisako on April 8 in the May issue of Chuo Koron argue that the pandemic has completely changed Chinese politics. Xi Jinping mobilized the Medical Corps and the military across the country, concentrating more power in his own hands. The economy is usually dealt with by the prime minister in China, but Xi has been more active in intervening. In fact, private companies are also being controlled more closely. It is now expected that the time to catch up with the United States in GDP will be earlier. The failure of the Trump administration has helped China. The authors focus on the keywords, “consolidation of economy and security,” (joining them in an integrated manner), as China presumes that it has an advantage over liberal nations in that the Communist Party can make integrated decisions on the allocation of people and resources and make use of national mobilization to capitalize on its superiority.
In Daily Shincho on April 12 Moon Jae-in’s weakening position in South Korea was discussed, citing an analyst who warned that the US and China will collide on the Korean Peninsula earlier than expected. It quotes Victor Cha that Korea is isolated among democracies and Chosun Ilbo, about crackdowns on freedom of expression. Indeed, it echoes the view that as long as the Biden administration advocates human rights diplomacy, it cannot overlook the violation of human rights in South Korea, which is even a threat to the alliance. Furthermore, it is said that when
Moon Jae-in congratulated China on the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, this was tantamount to South Korea “leaving the United States.” The coalition of the Quad has been organized to deal with China, as the UK and others in Europe are becoming involved, but the one country that does not participate is South Korea, which must be concerned that it is isolated.
Human rights issues will also be linked with this, but South Korea does not speak out on Hong Kong or Xinjiang. Fearing moves that would hurt ROK-Chinese) cooperation related to the North Korean issue, Seoul is not “leaving the United States” due to denuclearization, but due to fear of China’s retaliation. The article by Suzuoki Takabumi proceeds to blame deep-rooted anti-American sentiment among leftists, represented by the Moon administration, who think that it is better to go to China than to the United States. In contrast, ordinary people and conservatives have a very strong fear of China. To deal with this, in a US-ROK summit, Biden should replicate his role in 2015 and Obama’s on October 16 of that year, when they appeared to be warning Park Geun-hye about how the US would react if she continued to avoid meeting with Abe and held up trilateralism. Now, the challenge is to communicate to the Korean people so that they do not elect an anti-American president in March 2022. The article faults Seoul for not criticizing
China’s illegal expansion in the South China Sea and recalls Park being the only Western leader to participate in the 70th anniversary of the anti-Japanese victory parade in 2015, a sign that
“leaving the United States” had already begun.
The article contends that on April 3 at the China-Korea Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Xiamen, South Korea was brought closer to China. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, Wang Yi said, “The two countries must strengthen cooperation in areas such as 5G, big data, AI and semiconductors.” Mention was made of green economy, artificial intelligence, integrated circuits, new energy, and health. Foreign Minister Chung Wei-young answered weakly that “Korea considers the development of relations with China to be extremely important.” The US and Japan are urged in the article, if South Korea forms a 5G alliance with China instead of the United States, to stop supplying EUV photoresists. Not only Samsung Electronics but also the Korean economy would not be able to withstand this, readers are told. After all, China is rushing to break the “bridge for South Korea to return to the US side” before the pro-American faction revives in the presidential election, as foreshadowed by the by-election mayoral results on April 7, just two days before Moon was shocked by North Korea’s decision not to participate in the Tokyo Olympics. China is dangling before Moon a 2021 visit to Seoul by Xi Jinping while trying to take advantage of his weakness to extract concessions. The Moon government obliged by compelling Samsung Electronics to build a semiconductor factory for 5G in China. As the world awaits a Taiwan contingency after the February 2022 Beijing Olympics, it should prepare for a “Korean Peninsula emergency” in which the US and China collide diplomatically. Even without military clashes, one reads, the alliance is likely to change dramatically. The article notes too that on April 8, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced the bipartisan “Strategic Competition act of 2021,” requiring governments to enter into a “Digital Trade Agreement” to maintain US digital hegemony It is a strategy that does not depend on Chinese products while sharing advanced technology only with democracies that confront China. Yet South Korean telecommunications companies continue to use Huawei’s 5G equipment in China. The US has set up a 5G cooperation organization “Clean Network” and asked allies not to use Huawei’s base stations, but the South Korean government is ignoring it. The United States and Japan may have to launch a “5G” attack that narrows the supply of advanced semiconductor materials to South Korea, if this scenario plays out in the next months.
On March 9 in Newsweek Japan Kawato Akio wrote about the Northern Territories dispute. It noted that following a constitutional amendment in July last year, Russia can now impose imprisonment on anyone involved in the ceding of territory. Putin has been making noise in mid-February this year, saying he would not violate these provisions in relation to Japan. A hopeless situation for negotiations is suggested. Since 2001, Russia has regained power by increasing GDP by about 6 times due to the sharp rise in crude oil prices. The humiliation of extending NATO to the Russian border during a time of weak national power has led to nationalism in sovereignty and territory, from liberals to adolescents, and the decisive deterioration of US-Russian relations due to the 2014 merger of Crimea has also hardened Russia’s outlook on Japan, ally of the United States. These are not propitious conditions for Japan-Russia territorial talks.
Kawato observes that the territorial dispute moves significantly when Russia’s national power declines significantly, as in the 1990s, or if China shows ambitions in the Russian Far East, possible since Russia robbed the Qing dynasty of four times as much territory as Japan, and China will “remember” its history. In Kawato’s view, Japan should remind the world that “the Yalta Agreement alone does not define the change of borders, and the United States has not handed over the four northern islands even in Yalta in the first place.” Since they are not Russian territory, returning islands does not violate the Constitution. And in order to make the Russian government aware of the importance of solving this problem, Kawato says, Japan should show that the Soya Strait and Tsugaru Strait (main supply and distribution routes between mainland Russia and the four northern islands) can be closed at any time. However, it is better to do these things calmly. The media in both countries are always looking for sensations. The advice is to avoid unnecessarily turning Russians, who love Japanese food and culture and appreciate Japanese cars, into enemies.
On March 18 Gendai Business reported that on March 11, the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. the Russian army was taking a “provocation action” against Japan, as if the Japanese condolences were dismissed. It mentioned that A-50 Airborne Early Warning and were clearly threatening. Japan should have criticized these actions, and the matter should have been widely reported so that people mourning many victims became upset, the paper argues.
In a Yomiuri editorial on March 22 Russia’s approach is called dishonest. It notes that Russia
plans to develop a large-scale resort on Etorofu Island in the northern territories and that surface-to-air missiles have already been deployed there, while military exercises are being conducted on both Etorofu and Kunashiri islands. Accelerating “Russification” is unacceptable, it complains.
Medvedev said, “Negotiating the transfer of territory with Japan is no longer possible” because Russia has amended its constitution. The aim is to draw concessions such as financial support from Japan, but it is extremely regrettable. There is a view that the background to such remarks is the severe internal affairs of the Putin administration. Since 2019, the relationship of trust with Japan has been greatly impaired by actions such as the joint flight of Chinese and Russian troops around Japan. It is inevitable that Japan-Russia relations will cool down, the editorial concludes. At the National Convention for the Return of the Northern Territories on February 7, the appeal condemning Russia’s illegal occupation was adopted for the first time in three years.
In Newsweek Japan on April 7 Nagai Hiroshi assessed what Japan should do about Myanmar, saying that the government cannot take a resolute stance toward the armed forces that are being slammed not only by their own people but also from all over the world. What cannot be overlooked is the role of Japan’s ODA in the developmental dictatorship in the country. This was used to open new markets in Southeast Asia. ODA was emphasized in each country as the war reparations ended. The amount of donations to ASEAN member countries, led by Indonesia, is more than half of Japan’s total ODA donations worldwide. Myanmar was not then an ASEAN member, but Japan became the largest donor. A blueprint of the project was often drawn by a Japanese trading company and shown to the government of the partner country and a leading local company, often tolerating corruption between Japanese politicians and companies with ODA business interests and with the top of the dictatorship. The US supported Japan’s economic assistance since the countries were anti-communist even if their leaders were dictators who suppressed democracy. After all, economic development would show their superiority over communism in the Cold War. Later, the US turned its attention to infringement of human rights and democracy, while the leaders of the developmental dictatorships of Suharto, Marcos, and Thailand were accused of “Japanophilia” in Japan. The Japanese public has begun to re-question the development concept, and the international community trends to respect of the universality of democracy. Suga understands the importance of supporting democracy as an ally that shares values with the United States. However, it is not possible to stop the long-standing commitment to Myanmar’s military affairs through financial assistance and ODA business. News that a Japanese public-private alliance, which is promoting a real estate development project totaling more than 30 billion yen in Myanmar, paid the rent for a site which was finally passed to the Myanmar Ministry of Defense, undermines the Japanese image. Solace in views that ODA was provided to advance military affairs toward democratization is no longer possible.
Suga’s visit to Washington
Three contrasting early responses to the summit were reported in Japanese news media: the conservative papers were delighted; the progressive papers were upset that Japan had tilted to the US and lost balance in managing China and the US; and news of China’s response signaled the end of its interest in boosting ties with Japan as it blamed the Japanese side as a US vassal.
In Yomiuri on March 17 an editorial looked at the 2+2 meeting with the US as a factor in preventing China from changing the status quo by force. It noted the exception made in a 2+2 joint statement in singling out China by name as acting against the existing international order. The message was that Japan and the US would not tolerate repetition of China’s behavior. While Trump’s words disparaged the alliance, it is very significant that Biden’s posture is to go forward with Japan actively to promote FOIP. It is important to build an international rules-based order in cooperation with Australia, India, and the countries of Southeast Asia. India has become more alert to the danger of China’s challenge to an open international system. The risk has risen that China will try to change the situation in the Taiwan Strait by force. If the balance in the Indo-Pacific is broken, there will be a severe influence on Japan. Already China repeatedly infringes on sovereignty around the Senkaku Islands. The Japanese government now is weighing concrete measures to strengthen alliance deterrence through a division of labor with the US. Prior to resigning, Abe was examining ways to boost missile defenses. When Suga holds the first summit of a foreign leader with Biden in April, for the success of the summit, he should have a sense of urgency about strengthening the alliance. This advice was followed a month later in Washington.
In Yukan Fuji on April 17 it was noted that Japan and the US will cooperate in the spread of safe 5G mobile communication systems and the construction of supply chains (procurement and supply networks for parts) such as semiconductors, conscious of China’s threat in high-tech. On technology as well as security and values, Japan is committing to working closely with the US.
Taiwan was barely mentioned in the joint news conference, but it was referenced in the joint statement, prompting China to express “strong dissatisfaction and decisive opposition.” As Jiji.com reported on April 17, China also was seriously concerned about human rights issues in Hong Kong and Xinjiang being raised. Chinese anger over the summit was well noted in Japan.
Sankei on April 17 argued that the summit exposed South Korea’s isolation, although just before the Biden-Suga meeting its presidential office announced that a US-South Korea summit meeting would be held in the latter half of May, and boasted that it was just the second summit meeting announced after Japan and the United States. Citing Hankyoreh, it asserted that the US had agreed “because of consideration not to excessively alienate South Korea, which is in conflict with Japan.” Suga’s call for more three-way cooperation was viewed in Seoul as a response to US insistence. With Biden and Suga stressing cooperation to counter China and for the complete denuclearization of North Korea, in contrast to Seoul’s refusal at the US-ROK 2+2 to mention China or denuclearization of North Korea in the joint statement, Seoul is left on the sidelines.
On that same day in Sankei Miyake Kunihiko praised “a world-famous summit meeting that created a major trend in new international politics.” Biden’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan was taken as evidence that China is now the focus of diplomacy, as Japan sought.
Given the worsening strategic environment surrounding Japan, especially in the East China Sea, the summit was welcomed as the right response in preparation to respond to China’s next moves.
Yomiuri that day wrote about the “Joe-Yoshi honeymoon.” It called on South Korea to keep pace at the May US-Korea summit, despite noting that Seoul seeks to minimize any negative impact on its relations with China. Moon is hoping to influence Biden’s review of North Korea policy.
In FNN Prime Online that day it was argued that the Japanese side had initially wanted to keep
the contents of the joint statement simple, not to overly arouse China, but it yielded to the US.
However, the US also showed consideration for the position of the Japanese side because, although the joint statement specified the “Taiwan Strait,” Biden never mentioned Taiwan at the press conference. As the US and China search for a “red line” that both sides should not cross Japan will be required to strike a difficult balance, the article concludes.
Asahi on April 17 responded to the summit more negatively, observing that the central agenda for Biden was how to respond to the “challenge from China.” As his administration strengthened its stance toward China, it chose Suga as the first partner to position Japan at the forefront of restraint against China. Yet China is Japan’s largest trading partner. The Japanese government, the ruling party, and the business community have insisted that they should maintain a cooperative relationship with China, so attention was paid to how Japan would balance between the United States and China. Instead, the joint statement conspicuously shows Japan passively taking the US position. On the Uyghurs, the Japanese government had said that there is no legal basis for sanctions on human rights issues, but it went along with the US stance. Asahi suggests that Suga wanted to downplay his reputation that foreign affairs are not his strong point by being the first foreign leader to hold a face-to-face meeting with Donald Trump’s successor and paid a price because the US expected Japan to fall into line. Japan passively went along in many areas. Agreeing to wording on “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” could serve as a game changer in ties with China, readers were warned, leading to retaliatory measures involving the business sector and/or military pressure.
There are no signs the Suga administration has moved to compile a new strategy toward China that cuts across ministerial lines, leaving Suga unprepared to do more than acquiesce. The paper asserts that US national interests do not always dovetail with Japan’s. Due to geography and economic ties, the relationship between Japan and China is quite different from that between China and the United States. Stability in the Japan-China relationship also offers huge gains in the national security field, Asahi insists while complaining about Suga’s willingness to sacrifice Japan’s national interest in return for the honor of becoming Biden’s first summit guest.