Country Report: Japan (December 2017)

Editorial Staff

In late 2017, a succession of galvanizing themes dominated media coverage in Japan. At the beginning of November and again in mid-December, the media focused on Moon Jae-in’s turn toward China. Through much of November, it was Donald Trump’s travels to five countries in Asia, beginning with Japan. By early December, the focus had turned to North Korea’s new ICBM test and a call to cut off oil supplies. Sankei Shimbun was most critical of China and insistent on pressure against North Korea. Yomiuri and Nikkei generally took the same position. Asahi led the way in appealing for dialogue with the North and doing more to win China’s cooperation. The biggest themes were confronting North Korea, managing China both through Japan-US led regional architecture and bilateral diplomacy, and dealing with the untrustworthy leader of South Korea. Doubts about Trump were rather limited. 

After North Korea’s ICBM launch at the end of November, the December 6 Sankei compared responses in the media. Along with Sankei, Yomiuri and Nikkei said that strengthening pressure was the only feasible response, and that wishful thinking about a soft policy was a mistake. They argued that the North’s reentry technology was still premature, buying time. Asahi, however, said that it was still hard to read North Korea’s silence and that all possible means of diplomacy should be tried. Yomiuri editorialized on December 6 that there is no alternative to all-out sanctions, especially a complete shut-off of the oil supply, as Trump urged Xi in a phone conversation, to achieve a diplomatic solution. It saw Seoul’s cooperation in this pursuit as important, but regretted the weakness of the US State Department with its unfilled positions as well as the confusion over the US stance, and warned that a mixture of diplomacy and military might would be needed. Sankei was bluntest in insisting that China is responsible for a deteriorating situation on December 1, while Asahi called for more active diplomacy from all sides. In agreeing with Trump’s hard line, Abe noted that Japan could not participate in a blockade of North Korea due to its constitution, as Sankei reported on December 1.

A Yomiuri November 3 article showed a declining trend in public opinion in favor of pressure rather than dialogue with North Korea. In February, the gap was 55 versus 35 percent, but in November it was reversed—48 percent versus 41 percent for dialogue.

The foremost goal of Japanese diplomacy in the final months of 2017 was pressure on North Korea. Abe’s summit with Trump and other November summits were showcased as events where that objective was effectively pursued, while the clear goal of Abe was to amend the Constitution. Yet, critics of Abe doubted that he was making progress on North Korea apart from hugging Trump closely and joining him in finding more ways to encourage Xi Jinping. Tokyo Shimbun on October 24 pointed to two setbacks: an article by Aleksander Panov argued that, as much as the Russians were eager for Abe to win a mandate in the fall elections, sanctions on the North are useless since the alternatives are only realistic dialogue or war with irreparable damage to Japan and others, which would result from the United States only thinking about itself, not its allies. A second article focused on souring relations with South Korea and China if Abe proceeded to amend article 9 of the Constitution.

Kitaoka Shinichi in Sankei on October 24 called for academics to discuss changes in the use of the Self-Defense Forces, noting their more collective role in South Sudan, as recommended by the advisory commission he represented in 2014 before the law was changed. Given changes since 1989, Kitaoka called for an historical approach as he recounted his own involvement over the years. China advised that if Koizumi showed restraint on Yasukuni, it could be moderate on Japan’s selection as a permanent member of the Security Council, but Koizumi did not stop his visits. Bush also did not accept the overall reform proposal. Kitaoka does not know if another chance will occur, but he mentions a proposal for longer, non-permanent terms and suggests that at this time that may be a more realistic option for Japan.

Japanese commentary during Trump’s trip often lumped South Korea with China as concerns about tightening sanctions on North Korea and strategizing about the Indo-Pacific framework are raised. Tanaka Akihiko in the November 15 Yomiuri assessed the themes of Trump’s travel and said that Japan would welcome the United States returning to TPP.  On that same day, Yomiuri credited Trump with some success in encircling North Korea on his trip but wondered if he was talking too much about dialogue and raised questions about his overall Asian strategy and the distance he was keeping with China. For Asahi on November 5 and Tokyo Shimbun on November 16, however, Trump stirred trouble with aims for bilateral trade talks with Japan, criticism of China for US trade deficits, demands to renegotiate the FTA with South Korea, and polarization regarding North Korea, downgrading dialogue at odds with China and South Korea.

On December 1, an article by Hasegawa Yukihiro in Gendai pointed to the climax for Trump after North Korea launched an ICBM, which Trump has warned crosses a red line. Persuasion of China has failed, and approaches to Russia have been rebuffed after Congress refused to go along with lifting sanctions on Russia in return for its help with North Korea. The refusal was driven by the Democrats’ attitude that Russia stole the election and the mainstream Republican view that Russia is the focus of taking back power that had shifted to the White House, Trump’s hands are tied when it comes to lifting sanctions, while Russia substitutes for China in supplying oil to the North, offering it a lifeline. This leaves Japanese thinking that US military action or a blockade is possible. As the one leader standing with Trump, Abe is important in this process, notes Hasegawa, while warning that the situation is now dangerous.

China-North Korea Relations

JB Press on December 4 discussed Xi Jinping’s assertive great power diplomacy toward North Korea as his second term begins after the 19th Party Congress. In the first term, he emphasized China’s core interests, focusing on territory and sovereignty in nearby maritime areas. Such behavior is expected to intensify. In the meantime, there has been a noticeable shift in his hardline posture toward Japan as seen in his APEC summit with Abe. One reason given is that Xi has consolidated his rule, requiring a tough foreign policy line to go along with his domestic fight against corruption. Another, seen in Xi’s hospitality toward Trump, is China’s confidence that it is now on the same level as the United States. There is no longer a need to talk about a new type of great power relations, since Trump accepts the substance of that. Stability at home and acceptance abroad is leading Xi to be less aggressive, readers are told.

The article recognizes, however, that Xi faces a difficult problem in North Korea and as Trump appeals to China for help on it. Citing Steve Bannon’s interview with NHK, it suggests that Trump views North Korea as a satellite of China, where China has room to apply much more pressure. Trump has made ICBM success a red line, while China does not want to enforce this, as US military action in the first half of 2018 appears possible. If China remains a bystander, it would cast a shadow on Xi’s second term. With Abe insisting on pressure not dialogue, Japan is facing an important juncture in this coming period.

Japanese Newsweek on October 18 interviewed Anami Yusuke on why Japan’s images of China have missed the mark. Postwar experts were pessimistic about modernization in this way legitimizing the invasion of China, while Marxists expected China to leap ahead of Japan, which misjudged the actual divergence over two decades. Chinese propaganda deceived many Japanese until the late 70s—especially 1989 made a big impact. This is described by Anami as a chance to return to realism in thinking about China, but Japanese society simplistically saw China’s rise as leading to a superpower prepared to challenge the world order with the United States at the center rather than recognizing a scenario of social instability. This leads to exaggeration of the China threat and also the antithesis of the China collapse theory. The continuing emotional reactions toward China are blamed on myths, not realistic views. In their place is his argument that China needs to alleviate internal problems and wants to stabilize relations with Japan; the time has come for this more optimistic consciousness to guide Japan’s policy toward China.

Trump’s Visit to Japan

In Bunshun online on November 9, US coverage of the Trump visit to Japan was examined, arguing that much of it was not newsworthy. In Japan, there was some “Trump fever” as his movements were followed closely, while US media were preoccupied by Russiagate and the latest mass shooting. The big story in Trump’s trip was his talks with Xi Jinping. With Trump and Abe sharing a tough stance versus North Korea, nothing was expected to change as Trump took a hard line. Post-TPP with Pence talking to Aso about trade, little was expected to come of the Trump-Abe meeting on economics. Thus, articles on Trump’s visit to Japan were lacking in both quantity and quality, which is interpreted as a sig of the strength of relations; Trump has spoken by phone with Abe more frequently than with any other foreign leader, and they have had five conversations in person. That the November summit is nothing special is not a reason for any concern, the article concludes, drawing on US media.

An article in the November 7 Tokyo Shimbun called into question Abe’s claim that the summit was a “great success” by pointing to the “cool” response in the Western media. Much of the Japanese media treated the golf outing and other meetings between the leaders as a “honeymoon.” This paper critical of Abe pointed to US comedians making fun of these “best friends forever.” In contrast, the November 7 Nikkei saw Trump as making Japan his base to encircle North Korea. On November 16, while recognizing that the US side did not take to the “honeymoon” theme favored in Japan, Nikkei saw the summit as a path to a Japan-US-led framework for the region, reaching Australia and India, helping pressure North Korea and responding to China. Yet, concern was raised about Trump’s bilateralism amid hope that, under Japan’s leadership, TPP would be revived.

Most enthusiastically, Sankei Shimbun viewed the Trump visit on November 22 as a great success in putting maximum pressure on North Korea, on a shared strategy to the Indo-Pacific area needed to contain China, and on keeping the focus on China evading sanctions on North Korea. It reported that other Japanese newspapers had different views, although Nikkei and Yomiuri Shimbun were largely on the same page. Asahi is identified as favoring pressure on North Korea only as a means to initiate dialogue and Mainichi as unduly blaming US military pressure as the source of increased tension. On the Abe-Trump summit, Sankei was eager about the call for Japan to boost its military power, purchasing weapons. Yomiuri cautioned about the understanding of the wishes of the Japanese public and not overpaying, while Asahi warned of arousing security tensions and yielding to Trump’s dealing. Tokyo Shimbun was alarmed about destabilizing the region. On the Indo-Pacific strategy, Asahi was worried about being seen as opposed to China’s BRI as Mainichi warned against excessively provoking China. Finally, on Moon Jae-in’s dinner with Trump with the two “insults” to Japan with the “comfort woman” guest and the shrimp named after Dokdo, all were critical, saying only North Korea benefits.

Yomiuri on November 7 reported on US-Japan agreements over energy exports even if on automobiles, drugs, and beef, divisions were pronounced. In the new energy partnership with LNG infrastructure that fits into Abe’s stress on high-quality infrastructure exports and US eagerness for shale gas exports, cooperation would include Japan and extend to developing countries. The two sides avoided talking about a bilateral FTA and stumbled over drugs, as Abe seeks to lower drug prices given Japan’s rising social welfare budget. Energy gave them a positive focal point. Given the agreement on North Korea, defense strengthening, and the Indo-Pacific strategy, the economic divide was kept on the sidelines in the Yomiuri coverage. If the risk of war with North Korea could have alarmed Japanese, Trump was careful to avoid stress on this even if Nakanishi Hiroshi raised this in Nikkei on November 7.

An article in Japan Forbes on November 9 found Japan’s economic weight for the United States falling from a peak of 14 percent of US trade in the early 1990s to 5 percent today. Yet, Japanese companies have outsourced to China, Mexico, and inside the United States. Trade with Japan has fallen about 5 percent over the last decade (the only such case among the top 10 trade partners) as overall US trade has risen by a quarter.

Yomiuri on November 15 carried a commentary by former ambassador to the United States Kato Ryusan that Japan and the United States have shared consciousness about China. In US thinking, he equated China to the former Soviet Union and Japan to Great Britain, but he sees the economic as well as military challenge from China as exacerbating the challenge. Kato understands how China would be tempted by a G2 concept, but the United States would only lose from it. He frets that the notion of the Indo-Pacific strategy is not yet concrete, says that Japan should strengthen cooperation with the United States on China, and urges Japanese to debate constitutional reform, nuclear weapons, and energy and cyber questions as it boosts its military budget.

Trump’s Visit to China

Minemura Kenji in Bungei Shunju, No. 1, 2018 wrote about China’s concessions to the United States in 2017 after Trump made it clear that North Korea is the number one foreign policy problem and if China did not cooperate, US unilateral sanctions would target Chinese firms. Xi wanted good relations with the United States for external stability and internal prestige before the 19th Congress. Seeing how Abe had succeeded going through Kushner from November 2016, Xi followed that example, using Kissinger to approach Kushner and Ambassador Cui Tiankai’s residential proximity in Kalorama, Washington to forge relations that led to Ivanka attending the Chinese New Year’s celebration before Yang Jiechi met with Trump through Kushner in late February. Tillerson’s visit to China in early March brought acquiescence to some of Xi’s themes despite objections from Susan Thornton, who accompanied Tillerson. Tillerson prepared for his trip by spending hours with Ambassador Tsui, who stressed a “new type of great power relations.” China showed cooperation against the North after its nuclear test with tougher sanctions, but later, according to Minemura, the Chinese position hardened. In June, Trump was persuaded by Mattis and Tillerson to show his dissatisfaction, selling arms to Taiwan and imposing sanctions on a Chinese bank. The July 4 ICBM test saw more pressure put on China with talk of using Super 301 trade sanctions. Minemura argues that China softened to North Korea due to pressure on Xi from party and military elders of the Korean War generation recalling traditional relations and strategic importance. Yet, Xi yielded to Trump again, especially after the September 3 sixth nuclear test, cutting the oil lifeline some, freezing accounts, and imposing some unilateral sanctions. Trump and Abe met later in September and expressed thanks to China, the article mentions.

Asahi on November 5 carried a Chinese commentary on Trump’s visit to China, arguing that he was coming for China’s help: 1) in need of security and economic assistance that, in reality, meant recognizing a “new type of great power relations” without using China’s label; 2) for China’s help on North Korean nuclear weapons and missiles, although China still insisted on dialogue to resolve the problem; and 3) to avoid a trade war over the split on trade questions. Asahi’s November 7 editorial stressed diplomacy with China and Russia while avoiding opposition to BRI as the path to resolving the North Korean issue, including South Korea as a partner. It also stressed the gulf with the United States on finances, doubting the summit hype, while on November 6 comparing Trump’s new love for Japan with his past remarks. In contrast, Sankei trumpeted on November 6 how much stronger the alliance was.

The Trump-Xi summit was the prime opportunity for Japanese media to convey its deeper concerns. For an Asahi editorial on November 11, it was a chance to spread the blame: Xi’s hard line and Trump’s America-first without an Asian strategy left Japan and other countries uneasy as Sino-US relations struggled to find common ground, as in their parallel approaches to North Korea. A new era had dawned in this relationship, as Xi sought equality and appealed for good relations, Asahi had noted the day before. Yomiuri was blunt in linking Xi’s guided tour of the Imperial Palace to a Qing emperor appealing for respect for China’s history and culture and for trust in personal relations. On November 10, it also argued that China’s failure to do more to rein in North Korea left Trump distrustful, that Xi was playing another round in trying to get the United States to accept China’s “core interests” and a “new type of great power relations,” while Trump was insisting on a framework in the Indo-Pacific opposed to BRI and based on freedom, the rule of law, and market economies. Its editorial that day stressed danger over North Korea and China’s disregard of international law in the South China Sea, even as Xi offers his state guest exceptional hospitality in pursuit of “equal” relations. Most skeptical of Xi’s focus on equality between “two emperors” and two superpowers was Sankei on November 10, which did not see the gap closing and expressed disappointment in Xi for doing too little on North Korea. Trust in Trump remained high within the conservative community in Japan along with deep distrust of Xi in their reactions.

Japan-South Korea Relations

South Korea drew heavy criticism in November and December after the October 31 decision to yield to China on the “three no’s” about THAAD, missile defense, and trilateralism with Japan. An article in Sankei on November 24 found negative results since South Korea insisted on bilateral military exercises with the United States as the US-Japan exercises were unfolding to avoid the appearance of trilateralism. In spite of the fact that US forces in Japan are essential in case of a contingency and Japan has superior technology for detecting submarines, Seoul is acting this way. It is even putting in doubt the US-ROK alliance. In the worst-case scenario, if the United States seeks to use military force and South Korea refuses, the alliance would rupture. Should a peace treaty be reached, South Korea would be less important for the United States with less need for US forces. And should Moon—in the tradition of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun—soften to the North in accord with ideology and sentiments, China would likely extend its influence across the peninsula. These are reminders of Korea in the 1890s, when Japan was made uneasy by its invitation to Qing forces, concludes the article. In Asahi on November 28 it was noted that at the end of October when South Korea was supposed to host the trilateral uniformed officers meeting, it balked in order to avoid being seen as allied to Japan out of concern for China’s thinking.

Shukan Gendai on November 22 raised the question of cooperation with South Korea, drawing on former ambassador to Seoul, Muto Masatoshi. Noted was the presence of a former “comfort woman” at the November 7 dinner of Moon Jae-in with Trump, where Dokdo shrimp was on the menu. The article asks what was the point of inserting these issues when cooperation over a contingency with North Korea is just over the horizon. Japan protested; Suga asked at a news conference what were they thinking at a time when tightening trilateral cooperation is needed. By not keeping its promise of 2015, South Korea is acting like North Korea, charges the article. The thrust of the article is that South Korea cannot be trusted.

Asahi on November 12 was doubtful about the US-ROK summit and pointed in talk of Moon’s planned visit to China in December—timed to precede any Moon visit to Japan, e.g., for the CJK summit. It saw just reconfirmation of US-ROK existing defense ties and abbreviated exchanges at the expanded officials’ meeting that concentrated on the FTA issue. That day Yomiuri also focused on Moon’s concern about China in his meeting with Xi Jinping on the 11th, after the blow of about 0.5 percent of GDP due to China’s pressure over THAAD. Thus, Seoul is standing on the sidelines in the US-led regional approach, while Beijing is pressing further to disrupt trilateralism and keep Seoul preoccupied with how to avoid further Chinese retribution. Articles speculated on whether Moon was wooing China because of his desire: 1) to have a successful Winter Olympics with lots of Chinese tourists; 2) to secure more support from China in pressuring North Korea; 3) to respond to pressure from Trump that could lead to war or the collapse of KORUS FTA; or 4) to seek balance in great power relations at the earliest opportunity. On November 11, Nikkei stressed the growing gap of Moon with Abe and Trump. For Yomiuri too, as on November 9, Moon ‘s negativity toward Japan, failure to focus on North Korea, leaning toward China, and gap with Trump all boded poorly.

Sankei on November 9 was roughest on the Trump visit to South Korea, contrasting it sharply with the “honeymoon” visit with Abe. While noting that it was not “Korea bashing,” the fact that Trump met for fewer than 30 minutes with Moon, half of which was used for translators, that there were demonstrations, that the Moon administration is split between pro- and anti-US officials, and that the US military option and the Korean China option hung ominously over the barely one-day visit were signs of the unease that the leaders tried to keep below the surface. Yomiuri on November 8 and 9 by contrast suggested that Moon, conscious of the Japan-US honeymoon, tried to have a successful summit and that Koreans welcomed Trump’s speech to the National Assembly, but it also noted the gap in attitudes toward North Korea and the tensions over KORUS FTA.

Japanese sources stressed South Korea’s discord with Trump over regionalism and North Korea, doubt images of closer Sino-US ties while taking comfort in stronger Japan-US relations, and recognize “Trumpism” as distinct from “America First” even if there are gaps with Japanese thinking, reported Yomiuri on November 11. Yet, Sankei that day bemoaned Trump’s Danang speech for overweighing business in a one-sided manner and underplaying security concerns with China in the region. For Yomiuri on November 10 the stress on the rule of law sufficed to mean containment of China. Asahi on the next day saw India welcoming Trump’s speech but South Korea alarmed by it, regarding it as directed against China and asserting a more active US role in Southeast Asia.

Most understanding of Moon Jae-in’s dilemma in the face of Trump’s inclinations for preemptive war and trilateral deterrence and China’s pressure for dialogue with the North and against ROK-Japan military ties was Asahi, as on November 30.

The message from Tokyo Shimbun, as on October 22, was that the Japan-US-ROK opposition to China was a vicious circle of an arms race with North Korea in the middle. Trump cannot be trusted. Japan and South Korea are on the front lines and should break with Trump and press for dialogue. On November 5 Tanaka Akihiko in Yomiuri insisted instead that North Korea must continue to be pressed through the application of sanctions and deterrence through a long “cold war” to denuclearize, as it could not be trusted to stick to any deal. Japan could be attacked, but its security environment would be worse if the North could just keep boosting its capabilities. Sanctions would limit that. Idealism is in short supply in mainstream Japanese media, despite the progressive newspapers grasping for a way to keep it alive.

Identity wars, which had peaked in 2015 and diminished in 2016, came roaring back in 2017. Sankei again showcased them, warning on September 25 of Korean voices penetrating US textbooks and courses, followed by wide-ranging issues that bother Japanese conservatives: complaining against UNESCO on November 1 for its recognition of the “comfort women” and the Nanjing massacre, charging Canadian provinces for doing the bidding of Chinese in laws on Nanjing on the eve of the 80th anniversary, and later in the month castigating San Francisco for erecting a “comfort women” statue, which led Osaka to cut its sister-city relations. Shanghai’s Tokyo Tribunal memorial hall was the focus on November 26, and on November 29, an editorial centered on the “anti-Japan” moves of the Korean government, including the National Assembly designating August 14 as “comfort women” day. The main battleground was again the United States, as a November 26 article asserted, while warning that Koreans were damaging the resistance to North Korea and China’s maritime assertiveness. On November 25 Yomiuri joined in worrying about the effect on Japan-ROK relations, while on December 2 Asahi warned that the late December visit of South Korea’s foreign minister—in advance of the projected January trilateral summit between Japan, China, and South Korea—would dwell on the question of what Seoul was demanding in place of the December 2015 “comfort women” agreement, despite the importance of reassuring Japan in order for them to want to attend the March Winter Olympics. History was not what many in Japan wanted to discuss, but it had revived as an issue Japanese could not avoid.

Japan-Russia Relations

On November 9 Yomiuri reported on Putin’s article in the paper and that Russia’s foreign trade with APEC countries had risen over five years from 23 to 31 percent of its total, but as FDI in Russia has fallen funds for the Russian Far East have not been found. The headline suggests that Putin is expecting Japanese funds for the area.

On November 11, a day after Abe and Putin met in Danang, Sankei reported on Abe’s appeal for Russia to play a bigger role in denuclearization of North Korea, noting too that the leaders met for about 65 minutes, of which 15 were with translators only to center on conclusion of a peace treaty. This was their 4th meeting of the year and 20th if Abe’s firs time as prime minister is included. Yomiuri the next day was upbeat and stressed the importance of Russia both for the islands issue and North Korea. Its optimism was linked to the centralization of power by both leaders, easing their way to decision-making and the progress achieved in September when they agreed on five activities for joint economic development, including farm fishing and tourism, as well as confidence that Putin’s re-election in March would mean that when Abe visits Russia in May they will be able to reach concrete agreements on joint economic activity despite the thorny question of whose laws to apply. Yet, one article that day ended with doubt on agreement over a special system for economic ties on the islands, as Japan has demanded, and on the outlook for resolving the territorial question.

On November 25 after Foreign Minister Kono met with Lavrov in Russia, Sankei focused on the gulf between the two on North Korea, especially Russia’s strong opposition to Japan’s missile defense as if its purpose was to contain Russia and China. That day Yomiuri echoed this concern, noting that Lavrov blamed Japan entirely for following Trump when he visited Japan. As the two sides awaited talks in December and January prior to Abe’s visit to Russia, there was talk that if the alliance operated on the islands a peace treaty would be difficult, but Yomiuri’s headline expressed unanimity on sanctions against North Korea. For Asahi, however, the Aegis Ashore missile defense and the divide on the North were the real story, as it added on November 25 that Putin, when meeting Abe at APEC, indicated that he was in no rush to proceed toward a peace treaty. Then December 1 Yomiuri carried a story about Russia deploying land-to-ship missiles against the United States on two Kurile Islands with the Northern Territories within their range.

Sino-Japanese Relations

The January 2018 Chuo Koron carried a roundtable of two Chinese and two Japanese analysts, discussing the Sino-Japanese normalization. Ambassador Miyamoto, who had served in China in 2006-10, said that excessive pessimism is not warranted about the future of relations and that given big changes in the world the two again need to set a good direction. Noting the sharp downturn in relations after 2008, the Chinese speakers saw reason for optimism in forging a new bilateral framework, while Takahara Akio noted: promoting globalization against resistance in the West; managing the history and territorial issues; and having thinkers in both countries discuss the rules for a new East Asian order. Ma Licheng bemoaned the big setback to relations after he had urged “new thinking” in 2002, but argued that both states were pressed on trade by the United States, they have common interests in denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, and Japanese firms are now investing less in China as China is catching up in technology. Miyamoto asked if in the next 5-10 years as China catches the United States would it continue a strategy of peaceful development or not. He called for building on the region’s vast economic clout, adding South Korea exceeding the US and EU combined GDP, and on shared culture, but Takahara warned that misunderstandings had reached a dangerous level, and things could get worse. Miyamoto urged China to improve its image in Japan, but the Chinese warned of a huge reaction in China to constitutional revision in Japan. What started off hopeful shifted to alarm about worse things to come.

Sino-Japanese relations improved significantly at the end of the year, as Japanese media sought explanations. Xi had consolidated power and now had fewer obstacles to improving ties to Japan and dispelling concerns among neighbors, said Tokyo Shimbun on November 16 and Asahi on December 7. Yomiuri on December 6 traced the start of Xi’s “smile diplomacy” to October, when he centralized power. On the fronts with North Korea and the South China Sea, Xi pursued better ties with Seoul and Hanoi, showing that a great power could be softer to its neighbors. Aiming to forestall Trump’s North Korea, Indo-Pacific, and trade policies, he treated Trump as someone with whom one could deal after personal ties had been established. For stable development of his signature BRI, Xi found others finally supportive. By the end of November Japan was ready to make its support concrete, said Yomiuri on November 28, in energy conservation, environmentalism, high-level industry, and transport networking, no longer regarding it as a plan for economic hegemony by China or at least recognizing it as a tradeoff for Chinese cooperation on North Korea, while anticipating a series of summits: CJK, Abe to China, and finally Xi to Japan, as Yomiuri on November 14 and 28 noted. Yet, never far from sight, as in Yomiuri on November 27, was the notion that Xi aimed to build a new China-led order. Now that Japan and China had leaders who had consolidated their power, especially with Xi giving freer rein to the Foreign Ministry and striving to overcome economic lethargy as well as to compete as an equal with the United States, Japan rose in priority, said Yomiuri on November 5.

Japan-Southeast Asian Relations

At the EAS, which commenced two hours late leading to Trump’s departure, Abe took a leading role on upping the pressure against North Korea while China’s opposition to a statement expressing regional views on the South China Sea meant that there was no chairperson’s statement issued. In Manila Abe was pushing for a TPP without the United States, Yomiuri also reported on November 15. The previous day it had faulted China for its attitude on the South China Sea and Russia for being against a statement planned on North Korea, while stressing Abe’s active appeals for support. In Danang, earlier Trump’s Indo-Pacific comments drew praise from states in ASEAN, Tokyo Shimbun reported on November 12.    

Duterte’s visit to Japan on October 30 led to optimism about forging a “golden age” in relations, asserted Sankei on October 31. Duterte has high expectations for Japan to assist his country.  It also stressed agreement on pressuring North Korea and on the importance of the maritime order and freedom of navigation, arguing that the two countries share fundamental values and strategic interests and reminding the readers that in January when Abe was in the Philippines he promised over five years one hundred million yen in assistance. Asahi’s coverage that day of the summit was less glowing, saying that Duterte put more stress on dialogue with North Korea and that Japan was dissatisfied with his shift toward China on the South China Sea, while his view of open seas was not in opposition to China. On December 13, however, Yomiuri was writing about a “comfort women” statue in the Philippines and Japan’s statement of regret about it, in spite of good personal relations between Abe and Duterte and the absence of any “anti-Japan” movement. The article called for greater efforts to explain Japan’s past behavior, accepting for today’s government responsibility for justifying the past, not repudiating it.

Sato Koichi in the November 8 Yomiuri wrote of Japan’s efforts to assist states in Southeast Asia to respond to China’s moves in the South China Sea from offering ships for maritime patrols and helping with surveillance to acting as a go-between in US-Philippine relations. But as Yomiuri stressed on November 11, the plan is for joint Japan-US leadership behind the Indo-Pacific concept and Trump’s echoing of Abe’s language in his Danang talk, at last embracing values diplomacy while seeking the formation of the Quad along with ASEAN as a regional bulwark. China disregards international law, Abe has a response, and Trump finally went beyond “America First” to join in security regionalism, while after dropping TPP, bilateral economic thinking still poses a challenge on which Japan appears to be working. Otherwise, there was little in Japanese reporting to suggest disappointment with Trump’s trip. For Abe it was a honeymoon, for Moon it was submerged tensions as Moon tried to use it against Japan, and for Xi it was a fruitless effort at forging a G2 with financial deals without doing much to resolve the issues that matter most to the region.

Jimbo Ken on November 27 in Yomiuri focused on India’s importance for this newly stressed framework for the regional order, articulated by Japan and the United States. He is concerned that the US use of the term is not transparent and that the Quad countries are the focus but there is concern about ASEAN being buried in this. Earlier the October issue of Gaiko Jijo was devoted to ASEAN on its 50th anniversary, arguing that a new era has dawned for the group. While Japan is credited with having a Southeast Asian policy, America is faulted for lacking one under Trump. The fact that nationalism is intensifying in China but not Japan is noted as a factor in the balancing ahead as Sino-US relations prove adversarial. Most articles are on specific countries; the overall message remains rather vague in this collection.

#North Korea #Russiagate #THAAD #TPP #Trump-Xi Summit #US-Japan FTA #US-ROK alliance