Country Report: Japan (August 2021)


International relations were mostly on hold in July, August, and the first half of September as Japanese concentrated on the Tokyo Olympics and the election for LDP president and could not avoid the latest wave of handwringing over the pandemic. After going to England for the G7 meeting in June, Suga kept close to home before and after announcing his departure as prime minister until he went to DC for the Quad summit on September 24. Meanwhile, Japanese media closely followed the US debacle in Afghanistan, strong statements by its own leaders upping ties with Taiwan and arousing vehement responses in China, and anger over Russia’s new policy on the disputed islands. What started as a quiet time for foreign policy debates grew livelier when a security deal drew the US-UK-Australia (AUKUS) together versus China along lines Japan’s government sought. North Korea also reminded Japanese of its presence with missile launches and then a call to South Korea to start talks with conditions. TPP entered the picture with China and Taiwan applying to join. September saw lots of news as LDP elections were awaited.

Japanese conservatives and progressives differed in their editorial advice, but there was strong agreement that Japan’s security environment was growing more threatening. China was viewed as the foremost threat, but there were reminders from both North Korea and Russia taken as troubling by Japanese media. With political leadership in turmoil, the pandemic spreading, and no high from hosting the Olympics, coverage was rather glum during the late summer period.

North Korea
Yomiuri on September 14 editorialized that North Korea was attempting to intimidate the United States and other countries through military provocation and drag them to the dialogue table. It added that the Security Council should consider tightening regulations on North Korean missile development. Meanwhile, Japan needs to work with the United States to put in place a counterattack posture that will make North Korea understand that "attacks on Japan come at a significant price,” while proceeding with the examination of a comprehensive policy regarding missile prevention. Sankei that same day called on Japan to take new steps to intercept and deter, and make diplomatic efforts to prevent North Korea from launching long-range cruise missiles. Adding that a Chinese submarine had followed a provocative but not illegal passage and Russian aircraft had invaded Japanese airspace twice on the 12th, it demanded that the candidates for LDP president give concrete views on the security environment and what they would do to protect people from nuclear and missile threats, including building capabilities to attack enemy bases.

Asahi editorialized on September 14 that North Korea does not want to worsen relations with the United States but wants to start a dialogue depending on the conditions. In June Kim Jung-un had subtly expressed this interest by saying “we must prepare for dialogue and confrontation.” Just by making the restarting of nuclear facilities visible to surveillance satellites, he is following the practice of urging the US to make concessions. The paper said that cooperation between the US and North Korea is indispensable for solving the problem, as is Japan-US-South Korean cooperation to alleviate North Korea’s concerns.

On September 17, Mainichi reported on the second set of launches by North Korea in a week—this time two new types of ballistic missiles in an irregular orbit. Concerned by the development of military technology which would make it difficult for Japan to respond, the paper argued that North Korea is trying to get an advantage in negotiations ahead. The fact that the US military responded that this does not pose an imminent threat to US soldiers, territories, or allies, it faulted the Biden administration for no sense of urgency. Yet it also was critical of Wang Yi’s protection of the North by stating “Other countries are also taking military action.” The article concludes that Japan must reach out to each country to unite to increase pressure on the North.

On September 24, Asahi reported that Kim Jong-un is willing to resume talks with South Korea if it does provoke the North with its policies or double standards. This response to Moon Jae-in’s call for a declaration to end the Korean War—just days after the North’s missile tests and the South’s first test of a submarine-launched missile—carried the condition that the South would have to abandon its hostility and only offered constructive discussions toward better relations.

A Sankei opinion piece on Sept 17 welcomed the strengthening of deterrence against China through the AUKUS framework. It reported that the US, UK, and Australia had created a new security structure for the stability of the Indo-Pacific region, especially with the first two now supporting Australia’s possession of nuclear-powered submarines. Kato Katsunobu, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, expressed his pleasure for this contribution to peace and security, and Sankei took the move as proof that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan puts the focus on rebalancing ‘against China.” Biden’s words were cited about ensuring the “latest defense capability against the rapidly increasing threat.” Such a deterrent will be a powerful deterrent against a navy activating its force in the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The paper saw the new cooperation as extending to artificial intelligence, cyber, and quantum technology as well as promoting the integration of defense-related science and technology, industrial infrastructure, and supply chains. Also welcome was the increased involvement of Great Britain in the Indo-Pacific, including the presence of the Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group. Noting that Australia has asked China to investigate the origins of the pandemic and warned about China’s hegemonic behavior in the South China Sea and elsewhere, the paper applauds it for both values and deterrence and closes by raising the subject of Japan also joining AUKUS.

Newsweek on September 23 discussed AUKUS, wondered how committed Great Britain will be, given warnings in its defense ministry that the budget is limited and calls for concentrating on Europe. It mentioned that Theresa May had asked Boris Johnson in Parliament, “How will AUKUS affect the response Britain should take if China attempts to invade Taiwan?" "Britain continues to be determined to uphold international law," Johnson responded. Note was taken of the fact that in the British-Chinese joint declaration that China swore to the international community that "one country, two systems will remain unchanged for 50 years after the return of Hong Kong." The article further noted the rise in distrust of China, which failed to reveal the origin of the virus. It concluded that, given the security of the Indo-Pacific, the decisions of the three maritime democracies are absolutely correct. Yet, it added that “nemawashi”—informal process of project management—is needed in international politics and worried that if the division between the US and Europe deepens, NATO, which Macron ridiculed as "brain dead," may be hollowed out.  Given that Germany with its close economic ties with China, is unlikely to turn against it, France is only second to Britain in importance in the EU. Raising the possibility of a Taiwan emergency, the article said that AUKUS will strengthen deterrence against China, which will be a big plus for Japan, which will inevitably be involved under the Japan-US Security Treaty. Japan must connect AUKUS with the Quad as the cornerstone of the Indo-Pacific, and actively work to restore relations between the United States, Australia and France, readers were told.

On September 7, JBpress argued that in the most recent world war between East and West ending in 1989 Japan was a victor and Russia a clear loser, with China close to that. It is said that the draft of an “Indo-Pacific charter” raises the notion of a new cold war. Japan can never erase the stain of a loser, but this new opportunity gives it a chance to rise in international society as a victor in the latest world war. An indispensable part of the new charter would be articles on containing China, which continues its human rights violations in East Turkestan, Tibet, Mongolia, and Hong Kong. All the world’s democratic countries should participate, with the Quad at the center in the liberal democratic camp of the new cold war. From the outset, the Quad + alpha participating would be appropriate. Alpha would include Great Britain, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, which have declared their participation in the Indo-Pacific. Adding Canada and New Zealand, a total of six countries seems right, resulting in a 10-party agreement. The Japanese government, readers are told, should lead the “Indo-Pacific charter.” 

Sankei, on September 23, wrote that Suga’s trip to the Quad continues Abe’s diplomacy. A year earlier Suga had said, “I don’t need a new tagline for diplomacy. I have a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP).” Biden in late 2021 used a different slogan, but due to efforts by the Japanese he agreed to use FOIP, and the first Quad summit was held. Suga’s travel is not a “graduation trip."  He had to join Japan’s ally. In October, a G20 summit and a US-China summit are expected. In support of Japan the US abolished import restrictions on food products imposed after 9/11.

FNNprimeonline on September 23 argued that Japan should have found a way to postpone the Quad summit for the next prime minister, but the US was adamant it be held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly. The Quad is built on the platform of FOIP, a Japan-led initiative. However, it should not focus solely on competition with China. Stable relations must be maintained. Given Japan’s political schedule, there was no other time for the Quad before the G20 and meetings there with Xi Jinping. on September 25 explained that the Quad is not a regional security system, even if behind the deepening of cooperation between the four countries is a sense of crisis toward China, which is challenging the international order led by the US, justifying authoritarian governance and strengthening its marine advancement. The Quad ‘s promotion of FOIP and the supply of vaccines to Southeast Asia are aimed at countering China. Biden was quoted as saying, "We are four democratic powers with a long history of cooperation." The article notes that he needs tangible diplomatic outcomes as the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan has been criticized as a "mistake." Biden also mentioned the Quad at the UN General Assembly on September 21.

Sankei on September 24 described India as turning away from “non-alignment.” With China in mind, Japan has strengthened ties to India, which is now beginning to bear fruit. Yet, India has an omnidirectional diplomacy without forming any alliance. It imports weapons from Russia and participates in the SCO led by China and Russia and is one of the five BRICS countries. The Japanese government emphasizes that it is not considering making the Quad a military alliance, it is "not a siege against China," wary that India would quit. A watershed occurred in October 2020 when in Tokyo the Quad foreign ministers met after the Sino-Indian border clash, but India could still move away from the Quad if its relations with China were to improve.

Yomiuri on September 24 assessed the Quad summit, commenting on the sharing of satellite data for climate change countermeasures. Data for reconnaissance from the satellites will not be shared due to India’s reservations about security cooperation. The Quad also plans to develop norms for the sustainable and stable use of outer space and consult on cyber defense and other measures with 5G in mind, raising concern about China’s information management. A big part of the Quad summit was to counter China by promoting the development in the Indo-Pacific region through highly transparent financing. called the "Quad Infrastructure Partnership," with senior officials from four countries holding regular consultations to discuss needs and development plans in the Indo-Pacific region.

On September 25 Suga met Morrison in Washington, welcoming the AUKUS agreement of the 15th and confirming the importance of strengthening alliances and partnerships aimed at realizing “FOIP.” On September 23 there was a Japan-India bilateral too. Suga and Morrison agreed on strongly opposing economic pressure in an attempt to use force in the East and South China seas to change the existing situation. The two sides agreed to join hands in security and economics. Although due to the epidemic, they were prevented from meeting in person, phone calls between them were among Suga’s most frequent, and they were on a first-name basis.

Tericho on September 3 reported on Lavrov’s September 1 assertion that the Japanese side’s proposed joint economic activity in the Northern Territories is "not allowed by the Russian constitution" because it calls for a legal system different from Russian law. He also called on foreign countries other than Japan to invest, and expressed Russia’s willingness to take the lead in economic development without Japan. Details were to be announced at the EEF, but Japan has not been invited to this conference.

On September 7 Sankei reported on Putin’s mention at the EEF of a special zone on the Northern Territories for domestic and foreign business, presumably from China and South Korea. It called for Japan to take strong measures, such as sanctioning companies involved there and prohibiting entry into Japan or dealing with Japanese companies. Abe’s focus on the return of only two islands only whetted Putin’s appetite. Sankei called for drawing parallels to the illegal occupation of Crimea by Russia and taking advantage of the recent shift to a stricter attitude toward Russia in the West.

In President Online on September15, Putin’s declaration on September 3 at the EEF that foreign companies would be exempted from taxes for investing in the Northern Territories was taken as the virtual collapse of the joint economic activities approved during Putin’s December 2016 visit to Japan. Abe tried to conclude a peace treaty with “2 islands plus alpha,” but Russia took a hardline approach and intends to turn to Chinese and Korean companies instead.  Will development occur without Japan? The population over five years on the four islands has grown by more than 2,000 to 18,810 plus over 3,000 military personnel. It is a relatively young population with an average income well above the norm in Russia, heavily employed in the fishing industry in the world’s leading fishing area. After the 2007 development plan was introduced, considerable funds have gone to airports, asphalt roads, port development, and housing. High-speed internet has opened. Interest in Japan has correspondingly fallen, but shopping tours there continue, traveling at Japan’s expense in visa-free exchanges, which are not serving their original purpose of mutual understanding. The tax exemption appears to be for fish processing, tourism, and manufacturing, where huge initial investments are required. This is not a tax haven. Chinese and Korean companies are likely to be wary, given Russia’s investment environment. Sakhalin has tried for 10 years to get them to invest in fish processing with no success; yet, the article does not show much of concern.

On September 15, Chuo Koron discussed the construction of two Russian-made nuclear reactors in Jiangsu, China, noting the video presence of Xi and Putin at the May groundbreaking ceremony. It showed that as the US proceeds with decoupling, there are countries ready to cooperate with China. An official announcement followed in early summer, saying China and Russia are renewing their 2001 treaty on its 20th anniversary, deepening cooperation and echoing shared concern about the impact on strategic stability of the US pullout from the INF treaty and push for missile intercept programs. Then, on July 15 in Tashkent, Wang Yi and Lavrov again stated joint opposition to US unilateral domination and criticized the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Weeks later, a joint military exercise occurred in Ningxia with 10,000 participants. The article cited strengthened bilateral cooperation directed against the United States.

On September 7, Sankei reported on the intensification of Putin’s trumpeting of Japan’s crimes in WWII, pointing to the Khabarovsk conference on the one-sided charges against Japanese POWs. There it was asserted that the Soviet Union saved the world from Japan’s biological warfare, spreading the historical view that Japan was evil. Twelve persons were sentenced to forced labor. The conference was jointly convened by the Russian historical association, the FSB, the foreign ministry, and others. Putin sent a message on preserving history in order to prevent distortions of WWII and the outbreak of another world war. Lavrov’s video reinforced the message that Russia was acting to prevent distortions of the war. In August, the FSB released secret documents as “proof” of the crimes, including that in 1938 Japan was preparing for war with the Soviet Union and that Japan conducted biological experiments on Soviet citizens. Putin in September 2019 had harshly rejected a resolution criticizing the German-Soviet pact 80 years earlier that started the world war by saying such things as that the Soviet Union liberated Europe from the Nazis.

In Yomiuri on September 14, coverage was offered of the academic conference a week earlier on the “Khabarovsk trial” of 1949 dealing with Japanese soldiers involved with biological warfare. Lavrov’s message spoke of the impact on human history of the atrocities of Japanese militarists. Xi Jinping had sent a message to a Russian conference on the anniversary date of September 3, seeking joint historical recognition, as Putin repeatedly refers to Japan’s war responsibilities, putting Japan’s militarists in the same league as Nazi Germany.

On September 1, Asahi editorialized about the lessons to be drawn from the US withdrawal and historic defeat in Afghanistan, asking where did the “war on terror” go astray. While the US could not permanently stay there, it was irresponsible in its departure. The mission was not completed but abandoned. US withdrawal from Afghanistan symbolizes the end of the era of US power, readers are told. Future counterterrorism missions must be launched by the United Nations. Japan participated in the Afghan endeavor, convening the Afghan Reconstruction Conference. Seeking the cooperation of the international community, it should act so that the efforts of 20 years will not end in a setback, the editorial concludes. In Mainichi on September 1, it was said that the US should bear heavy responsibility for the miserable end in Afghanistan. It is not allowed to just leave the turmoil. On September 9, Asahi further editorialized that even the idea of liberalism was damaged. Dialogue between civilizations was neglected, leading to division and intolerance. While Biden divides the world into democracy and tyranny, the US war on terrorism led to the growth of tyranny. A Mainichi editorial that day cast doubt on exceeding 1% of GDP in the defense budget, calling instead for diplomatic efforts to ease tensions with neighbors and a transparent explanation of the rise.

Sankei on September 1 agreed that the brutal end in Afghanistan undermined US prestige. The Biden administration should have extended the withdrawal deadline. Worrisome is the fact that this has sent a dangerous signal both to radical organizations and tyrannical states such as China, which poses the biggest threat to the international order. The administration prioritizes China, shifting its diplomatic and security focus to the Indo-Pacific in line with Japan’s national interest. Japan should further promote cooperation with the US. Moreover, the turmoil in the withdrawal exposed a lack of crisis response capabilities in Japan, especially in the evacuation operation. Whereas the US rescued more than 100,000, the UK more than 15,000, Germany about 5,000, and South Korea 390, only 15 people (one Japanese and 14 Afghans) left the country on SDF aircraft. The intention had been to evacuate several Japanese and about 500 Afghans working at the Japanese embassy with their families. The decision to dispatch the aircraft came only eight days after the fall of Kabul. It is not enough for leaders to deal with the pandemic and political affairs. This was their responsibility.

On September 9 Yomiuri editorialized that the West and Japan must call on China and Russia to build a common strategy and encourage positive change in the Taliban. It weighed cutting off foreign aid and deepening poverty or assisting an administration bereft with problems.

On September 23, Yomiuri reported Foreign Minister Motegi’s remarks on Taiwan’s application to join TPP, saying “Taiwan is an extremely important partner with close economic ties, sharing basic values ​​such as freedom, democracy, basic human rights and the rule of law." He seemed to be warning Taiwan by adding, it will be “necessary to firmly determine whether or not it is ready to completely meet (the rules) of the high level of TPP." Taiwan’s continued ban on imports from five prefectures due to the 9/11 accident was mentioned. The article noted that if China joins first, the possibility of Taiwan doing so almost disappear.

Sankei on September 23 discussed China’s application to TPP, linking it to China’s strategy to isolate Taiwan. The editorial insists that the international community is strongly opposed to China’s tough stance, and that the movement toward Taiwan is spreading in the US and Europe with Biden approving the sale of weapons to Taiwan and the EU expressing willingness to deepen relations with Taiwan in areas such as trade and investment. Obstacles to China’s entry could result from trade and security conflicts. "Wolf Warrior diplomacy" is a stumbling block. China’s negotiations for joining the TPP will not be easy.

Tokyo Shimbun on September 25 editorialized that the reasons why China applied for TPP entry may have been to seize the advantage of the US absence and take the initiative in regional rule-making, while seeking to block Taiwan’s entry, whose application Japan has welcomed. Entry may also suit Xi Jinping’s new economic strategy. Yet, whereas Taiwan stresses that it is “completely market-based” and is confident about adhering to TPP rules, in China state-owned companies have gained and private firms are under greater pressure, and forced labor prevails in places like Xinjiang. Accession will be difficult for China also due to economic conflicts with Australia and territorial disputes. If China joined, however, TPP would rise. As this year’s president of the organization, Japan should lead a fair debate. The US should seek early entry in order to protect free trade,

On September 24 Mainichi reported on Aso Taro’s comments about Taiwan’s application, saying, "Taiwan is an extremely important partner. Japan welcomes it. We share the same basic values ​​as Taiwan, such as liberalism, basic human rights, and the rule of law, and we have close economic relationships, so it is an extremely important partner. Isn’t it?" Taiwan’s application seems to have been rushed to avoid China entering and blocking it. Aso cast doubt on China’s case, saying that the TPP prohibits preferential treatment for SOEs.

Yukan Fuji on September 17 warned that China could not join the TPP without transparency and liberalization or resolving conflicts with other members. Great Britain and Taiwan did not seem to have similar constraints. It went further to stress the difficulty of joining if there is one-party rule by the Communist Party. It mentioned that the Senkaku issue matters for Japan, too.

Sankei on September 7 discussed Wang Yi’s planned visits to Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, and South Korea in the coming week. The goal is to break out of the Biden siege. Quoting Wang, it is mentioned that one aim is to draw Seoul toward containing the US. Wang said that in August 2022 when the 30th anniversary of normalization will be marked there will be an important opportunity to deepen Sino-ROK bilateral relations.

Daily Shincho on September 24 blamed the Chinese government for radicalizing its citizens. In part due to successfully containing the pandemic, people believed "Chinese civilization is the best in the world," but it has not been given due respect by the international community. The article warns that China can no longer maintain its expanding national identity with simple nationalism alone and may resort to war. A Pandora’s box has been opened, and as public dissatisfaction grows, as when the real estate bubble bursts, it may invade Taiwan with a high risk that US forces in Japan and the facilities of the SDF would be attacked. To deter China an appeal is made to boost air and missile defenses and to deploy long-range cruise missiles. If Chinese nationalism was once defensive, since 2008 and under Xi it has turned aggressive.

LDP Candidates and China
On September 9 Newsweek Japan reported that feeling of Sinophobia are increasing in Japan, while covering the LDP presidential candidates. It argued that the US strategy to contain China internationally has a strong attraction to Japan; yet no matter who becomes prime minister, Chinese are saying, the scale of trade relations will not be affected. China is stronger, and it is warning that Japan will suffer damage from worsening relations. On September 7, Global Times had faulted Kishida Fumio for trying to take the throne of prime minister through a fake means of confrontation with China. While Kono Taro has yet to be evaluated in Global Times, he had been viewed as pro-China, e.g., in 2019 praise for his wisdom. Other Japanese coverage, in contrast portrayed the US as wary of Kishida’s China policy and hopeful for Kono.

Articles on the views of LDP presidential candidates about China were not hard to find. In Terecho on September 15, the Chinese foreign ministry expressed its opposition to what was said about human rights in China and worshipping at the Yasukuni Shrine. They called Kishida’s remarks on human rights and Takashi’s on Yasukuni a “political performance.”

On September 20 Jesse Johnson in the Japan Times observed that foreign policy, normally of little import in LDP leadership elections, matters in this year’s closely contested election due to the interest in positions on China. In the past LDP doves have had the clout to keep candidates from saying much, this year hawkish positions are being aired, and the new hardline posture is likely to persist. Kishida Fumio has called stability in the Taiwan Strait the next big problem, while seeking more cooperation between the SDF and coast guard and promising a special post on human rights issues, including the Uyghurs. In facing China, he supports working with “like-minded democracies,” raising the profile of values in the competition. Yet, he also supports a stable relationship with China, as 2022, the 50th anniversary of normalization, approaches. On the same day the same author noted Takaichi Sanae’s talks with Tsai Ing-wen, claiming it was just in Tsai’s role as DPP head. The article notes the unusual nature of a contender for the LDP presidency to hold such talks, but it also points to Takaichi’s hawkish reputation.

Courrier Japan on September 23 recalled the family history of Kono Taro, noting that his father, Kono Yohei, is viewed as a politician from a pro-China faction. Author as foreign minister of the “Kono Statement,” deemed most conciliatory on “comfort women,” he later opposed the visit of former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui for medical treatment due to consideration for China, and resisted the issuance of an entry visa. Chinese sources have been weighing how pro-China Kono Taro is. It reviewed his role in the September 2019 CJK foreign ministers’ meeting and his ambivalent response to an August 2019 questionnaire, unlike the harder line taken on human rights in China by the other current candidates for LDP president. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the formation of the CCP in July 2021, he personally presented a congratulatory message to Xi Jinping. Retired from politics in 2009, he still chairs the Japan International Trade Promotion Association (JAPIT), one of the seven friendship groups between Japan and China. His grandfather Kono Ichiro is not only known for the Japan-Soviet Fisheries Treaty and negotiations to restore diplomatic relations between Japan and the Soviet Union, but also for restoring diplomatic relations between Japan and China, drawing Zhou Enlai’s attention. Yet Kono Taro has taken pains to appear aloof to China, as foreign minister criticizing China’s moves in the South China Sea and saying "China needs to learn how to behave as a great power." In 2020, as minister of defense, he said, "China needs to make efforts to improve the situation surrounding the Senkaku Islands. Otherwise, it will be difficult for President Xi Jinping to visit Japan." The article regrets the shift.

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