Country Report: Japan (July 2023)
In the period after Japan hosted the G7 summit, Japanese interest remained high in international relations in the Indo-Pacific. Coverage demonstrated optimism about South Korea as a partner, revived hope for dialogue with North Korea on abductees, wariness about China’s thinking on Okinawa and North Korea, continued focus on the “Global South” as key to a new world order, and notice of anniversary in the complex relationship Japan has forged with ASEAN.
In Sankei on June 22, Okabe Shin wrote an opinion piece on deepening criticism of progressive coverage of Abe’s assassination a year earlier, seemingly condoning the violence. This was contrasted to statements from people such as Modi on what an outstanding leader Abe had been. Citing an article in Will, the piece credits Abe with establishing security clearances for not only officials but also for civilian companies, making possible what Japan is now able to do. This has been critical to dealings with the G7 and Five Eyes. A Chuo Koron article also credited Abe with building a long-term administration with continuity and making clear that Japan’s national interest is shared with others. One source notes that while Abe was called a conservative, he was actually a reformer, stressing national security and enabling Japan not only to follow the United States but to lead international society.
On June 17, Yomiuri took a close look at the four candidates likely to succeed Kishida when the time has come, noting the three key LDP posts and three key cabinet posts Tanaka Kakuei had identified as stepping stones and the factions the four represent. Motegi Toshemitsu has been the head of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and foreign minister and held two of the LDP posts. Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa is included but he has fewer allies and fewer enemies than Motegi. Kono Taro is on the list too.
On June 2, Yomiuri reported on Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s visit to Japan, highlighting that the US valued Japan to deter China, both its defense capacity and its technology. Its cooperation is essential, and the alliance is stronger than ever before. It welcomes Japan’s counterstrike plans and the groupings with Japan and other US allies.
On June 7, Yomiuri reported on Emmanuel Macron’s June 5 opposition to a NATO office in Tokyo. Although the office would expand security cooperation with the Indo-Pacific region, Macron fears worsening relations with China. In April, when visiting China, he clarified that France would not follow the US on the Taiwan situation.
On June 29, Yomiuri discussed Japan’s need for government strategic investment as part of the “semiconductor war.” The war has led to a new level of strategic cooperation among Japan, the US, and South Korea. Key for Japan is production of the next generation semiconductors. Toyota is investing, and the government is providing assistance since reliance on market principles alone does not suffice. TSMC is building a factory in Kumamoto with diverse support. This is a war in which the country has to engage.
A Yomiuri June 5 editorial commenting on the Shangri-la security conference and overlapping groupings for deterrence raised high expectations for trilateral relations with South Korea and the US and posed a new trilateral grouping with the US and the Philippines, with which talks had just begun. With South Korea, intelligence sharing is not enough; expanded joint exercises are needed as well. On June 6, a Yomiuri article pointed not to South Korea but to Republicans as the problem, warning of a threat to long-term military assistance to Ukraine. On June 15 results of the joint public opinion poll of Yomiuri and Hanguk Ilbo were posted, showing 25% of Koreans said they could trust Kishida (up from 7% in 2021 who could trust Suga and 5% in 2019 who could trust Abe). As for trust in Yoon, 43% of Japanese answered affirmatively (contrasting to 38% of Koreans and just 8% of Japanese respondents regarding Moon in 2021). Coverage showcased a Japan boom in South Korea, contrasted with the 2019 “no Japan” movement, which led to a sharp cutback on consumption of Japanese bear and sake. 65% of Koreans do not approve of Japan’s three new security documents, versus 32% of Japanese.
On ties to the US there is little difference between the main Japanese parties, but progressives in South Korea tilt more to an autonomous foreign policy and more accommodation of China. Whereas 16% of Japanese consider South Korea a threat, 33% of South Koreans think of Japan this way. An editorial stressed the extension of good ties to the public. In the poll 45% of Japanese and 43% of Koreans said that relations are good, marking a 20-point jump. Concrete successes are seen in economic ties, cultural ties, and exchanges, even as the divide over history remains. For economic security, including in semiconductors and supply chains, cooperation is necessary. The Korean opposition considers Yoon to have yielded too much to Japan and will keep using the Japan issue for politics. The front-page synopsis of the poll results highlighted the jump in good feelings about relations, noting for Japan this was the first time since 2011 that the 40% threshold had been crossed and for South Korea the first time since 1995 the peak had been reached. Although Koreans stayed well below Japanese in being able to trust the other, their 28% figure was the highest since 1996. Key to the difference was a sharp divide over the forced labor resolution made by Yoon.
A June 7 Yomiuri op-ed discussed the growing closeness of South Korea and Europe, noting the visit of Germany’s Olaf Scholz on May 21 and Europe’s need for semiconductors and arms. In Seoul, talk has begun in the ruling party and among conservatives of joining the G7 and making it the G8. Among G7 members expansion is not being discussed, but there is no mistaking South Korea’s increased presence in international society.
Sakata Yasuyo in Toa, July, reflected on Yoon’s foreign policy, taking note of “Indo-Pacific 2.0 and Japan-US-ROK 2.0.” Marking the one-year anniversary of Yoon’s tenure, she treated Yoon’s “Global Pivotal State” as an expansion of Lee Myung-bak’s “Global Korea” and also as a “pivot” to the US in the context of the new Sino-US strategic competition, calling it “Global Korea 2.0.” In the process, the ROK-US alliance, ROK-Japanese relations, and the Japan-US-ROK framework are all being reconstructed. In 2022 much progress was achieved before the “forced labor issue” was resolved along with the other two big concerns (export controls and GSOMIA). In 2023 the path was open for diplomatic and security cooperation. Sakata takes special interest in trilateral strategic agreement on the “Indo-Pacific,” setting aside Moon’s wariness. She compares the Abe-Trump “Indo-Pacific 1.0” to the Kishida-Biden “Indo-Pacific 2.0,” in which Yoon is joining. She also contrasts the 1990s North Korea-centered “Japan-US-ROK 1.0” to the 2.0 version, which encompasses China, the Taiwan strait, Russia, Ukraine, economic and technological security, as well as the Indo-Pacific.
A critical turning point was the three-way Phnom Penh agreement of late 2022, when Yoon agree to the two 2.0s. In 2019 the US had asked Moon to agree to the Indo-Pacific strategy, and he only raised his New Southern Policy to it. In February 2022, Biden issued his version of the Indo-Pacific strategy, while Kishida was continuing FOIP. Moon in May 2021 confirmed with Biden the linkage with the New Northern Policy, but it was only in late 2922 that the three-way partnership on the Indo-Pacific took shape, and strategic ties took precedent for Seoul over resolving historical questions. Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy changed, as economic and technological security were accentuated, and the number of players increased with the Quad, ASEAN, France, Germany, Great Britain, the EU, and finally South Korea, as it issued its own “Indo-Pacific plan.” A new network formed in “Indo-Pacific 2.0.” Seoul was on board, ties with the G7 and NATO deepened, Japan-US-ROK ties complemented the Quad. The triad dealt not only with North Korea, but also with Ukraine, the East and South China seas including peace and stability in the Taiwan strait, and global-level cooperation with priority to North Korea, including missile defense and joint exercises. IPEF has been added as an economic framework, but problems remain: concrete actions must follow the policy menu with Taiwan a litmus test; decisions remain on how to deal with China; and stable Japan-ROK relations are a necessity. Clearly, South Korea’s image in Japan has been greatly transformed.
In the July issue of Toa, Kimiya Tadashi assessed ROK-Japanese relations after one year of Yoon’s tenure marked by huge changes in North Korea policy, in Indo-Pacific strategy moving away from strategic ambiguity, and in expanded nuclear deterrence agreeing on the “Washington Declaration.” In this new diplomacy, improved Japan-South Korean relations were essential. Even as only 30 percent of Koreans supported the agreement, Yoon reached normalizing ties and many criticized leaning to Japan. Mutual understanding on historical questions is necessary, and in the next joint declaration reconsideration is needed of an apology over the invasion and control. The time has come too for Japan to support Seoul’s peaceful coexistence policy toward North Korea. Finally, cooperation is needed to urge the US not to exacerbate the Sino-US conflict more than is necessary.
An editorial in Yomiuri on June 4 called for an all-out effort to resume dialogue with North Korea. Kishida attaches no preconditions and is prepared to lead the way himself, and now Pyongyang says it sees no reason not to meet. Talks broke down in 2016, and the North has kept saying the case for abductees has closed, but further investigation is essential. Yoon supports Japan’s stance, and Japan’s government should urge the US and China to be supportive.
On May 31, Yomiuri reported on the message from North Korea concerning the high-level talks sought by Kishida on the 27th, saying there is no reason not to meet. In February the abductee family association said it did not oppose humanitarian assistance, provided all of the abductees were returned in one batch. The window for talks has been cautiously opened.
On June 17, Gendai Business carried upbeat news about a resumption of Japan-North Korean talks after seven years. It noted that grain prices in North Korea have risen by 1.3 times in a year and hunger deaths and serious crimes have tripled. If the North opens up its borders, in order to deal with rising discontent, Kim Jong-un is showing interest in Japan. On May 27 Kishida told a gathering on the abductions issue that he is open to high-level Japan-North Korean talks. On the 29th the North Korean news service said that there is no reason not to meet, signifying a quick move by Kim Jong-un to give his approval. Kishida followed at a Diet committee meeting with a positive statement about wanting to continue to strive for a meeting. North Korea received this forward-looking statement. Speculation exists that secret talks have begun in a third country.
Why is Pyongyang interested now? With no resolution of nuclear and missile issues in sight, talks with the US cannot proceed. The abductions issue is different. Normalization of Japan-North Korea relations would be difficult, but Pyongyang still expects large-scale economic assistance. A Japanese diplomat who has visited the North said it is traditional for the North to seek space to maneuver between China and Russia for its own interest, and in the past it approached Japan too, recalling Kanemaru’s diplomacy in 1990 and Koizumi’s in 2002 and adding that the North’s DNA sees danger in relying only on China. A South Korean May 31 report explained that opposition has arisen toward linking tightly to China and Russia. Chinese officials note Pyongyang is punishing smugglers and others in illegal activities while curtailing the time North Koreans spend in China and demanding thar they return. Corn prices were up 1.6 times from the first quarter a year earlier and rice 1.3 times after market sales were limited in favor of offices newly established, ignoring supply and demand balances.
On June 9, Yomiuri carried an article citing Renmin Ribao, p. 1 on June 4, regarding Xi Jinping’s statement about the “Ryukyus.” This was Xi’s first statement on the subject since he took office, and it was seen as a response to Japan’s growing involvement in the Taiwan question. When Xi this month inspected documents at the archives, he heard an explanation of the Ming era Diaoyudao, with which he was deeply familiar from his time in Fuzhou, the launch point of exchanges with the Ryukyus. Already in 2013, a Chinese article referred to the unresolved status of Okinawa, hinting at China’s sovereignty. In the new article there was no mention of the status of Okinawa. In a follow-up on June 10, the headline mentioned the “deep exchange” of China and the Ryukyus. On Japanese coverage of Xi’s Okinawa statement, Zakzak on June 17 mentioned Yomiuri’s June 10 and other responses. Given Xi’s system of one-man control, this mention is important, and its is possible that “United Front work” will now shape public opinion and (pro-China faction) views of the issue. Some specialists did not see this as a big deal, but the author here, Minemura Kenji, feared it would lead to charges Japan had grabbed the islands.
On June 12, Shenzhen television spent about 50 minutes introducing the subject of China-Okinawa relations. In 1879 the king of the Ryukyus broke from the Qing system and entered Okinawa prefecture without consulting the Ryukyu people and under coercion of troops sent by Japan, it was said. As for a “Taiwan contingency,” it was explained that Okinawa, which had suffered in WWII, has been strengthening military preparations with the United States and is trying to become an armed fortress. The show introduced the fact that the Okinawa governor had on the 9th visited the Defense Ministry and asked that missile defenses not be installed on Okinawa. He is expected to visit China in July as an event marking the 45th anniversary of normalization. The article faults Japan’s government and the Diet for their limited responses, while they are wasting time on debate over the LGBT question. Public opinion must be engaged to negate this use of the “Okinawa question.”
On June 14 in Yahoo news, Endo Homare discussed Xi Jinping’s comments on the “Ryukyus,” which alarmed Japan about China’s intentions. On August 10, 2022, China issued a white paper on Taiwan which said that in the Sui Dynasty Taiwan was recorded as “Ryukyus.” This aroused a huge outcry in Japan that China is not only after Taiwan but also Okinawa. In fact, China has been aroused by Japanese talk that a “Taiwan incident is a Japan incident,” and by the increase in Japan’s military power, as well as by plans to out a NATO office in Japan. It was really the CIA which started talk of a “Taiwan contingency.” It would be a nightmare for the US, economically and militarily for China to unite with Taiwan and gain control of its semi-conductor industry. Yet, for Xi to use force to seize Taiwan would provoke fierce anti-China feelings and create a big possibility of a collapse of single-party control in China. On January 16, 2008, a CCP paper expressed regret that Jiang Jieshi had said China does not need the Ryukyus at the time of the 1943 Cairo Declaration. The PRC had also not claimed the islands until Xi’s June remarks evoked outbursts on the net, in media, and from historians of the legitimacy of claims for their return.
In Sankei on June 17 note was taken of Xi Jinping’s statement about the Ryukyus, covered on p. 1 of Renmin Ribao, using Okinawa as a “card” against Japan. The governor of Okinawa warned that Xi’s statement earlier in June was targeted at stirring up trouble inside Okinawa concerning its ties to the rest of Japan, while retaliating for Japan’s interference in the Taiwan question. Xi had been looking at old Ming Dynasty materials on Fujian province’s ties to the Ryukyus. In the 1990s Xi was the leader of Fuzhou City, where a Ryukyu hall was located and stressed exchanges with Naha city on the islands. In May 2013 Renmin Ribao carried an article raising doubts about the status of these islands, saying it was unresolved, as Huanqiu Shibao advocated cultivating independence forces on Okinawa when China was pressuring Japan after relations worsened in the aftermath of Japan nationalizing the Senkakus. One Taiwan-born specialist had warned that if China dragged up the Ryukyu issue Japan could get more involved over Taiwan. Yet, Xi of late has linked up with Russia in statements, taking its side on the Northern Territories, and now as regional relations in East Asia have been greatly shaken it is worth noticing how he plays the Okinawa card.
On June 19 Yomiuri reported on the Blinken visit to Beijing, suggesting it laid the groundwork for Xi Jinping to go to the US for APEC in the fall. Also noted was the May visit of China’s commerce secretary to the US to reopen economic talks as China’s economy is slowing down. On p. 1, the newspaper referred to no breakthroughs with the biggest problem being Taiwan, called the “core of the core interests.” The two sides were said to have talked past each other on Taiwan and on semiconductor export controls. China made clear it has no room for compromise on Taiwan, while calling on the US to stop raising the “China threat theory,” as noted on June 20.
On June 25, Yomiuri examined China’s quiet nurturing of “independent thinking,” as it pursues greater thought control as a “strong cultural country.” Schools must study Xi Jinping political thought, now added to university entrance exams. No matter whether one is in the party or not, entertainers can be fined heavily for how one deals with Xi’s thought. At the beginning of June Xi attended a seminar on cultural transmission. The article draws parallels with the way Mao’s though was venerated and inculcated in the Cultural Revolution.
Hamamoto Ryuichi in the July Toa analyzed Xi Jinping’s challenge to the Europe-US-led order in culture and history, highlighting the priority being given to a “new liberation of thought,” supplementing economic and military power in attacking the world order. On June 2 in Beijing, Xi led a gathering on the spirit of Chinese civilization, following up on the November 2021 plenary historical resolution and the October 2022 Congress agenda for joining Marxism and traditional culture. This time a history and cultural campaign is unfolding, under what Xi calls a “global civilizational initiative.”
Anami Yusuke in the July Toa examined the Chinese debate over the three December security documents issued by Japan. The documents represented a fundamental shift in official thinking on China, in comparison to prior documents. From 2017 to 2022, a gap existed between the firm US position toward China and the vague Japanese one, creating a possible misunderstanding in China. In the recent Chinese articles reviewed, there is no longer any uncertainty nor is Japan treated as a minor player. Important proof of that is found in Japan’s participation in the US-led export controls over semiconductors. Japan has been put in the big framework of China and Russia versus the democratic countries, leaving the bilateral clash with China over the Senkaku Islands of secondary significance. Chinese recognize Japan’s counterstrike capacity, purchasing Tomahawks from the US, as an epoch-making transformation. The Taiwan issue has now risen to the forefront in Sino-Japanese relations, leaving little prospect of improved ties. From the 1990s China strengthened its opposition to Japan and the United States while pursuing trade, and Japan was slow to recognize this reality, but Chinese know the situation has already changed.
On June 30, Yomiuri examined the seeming lack of concern in China over Putin’s situation and the Wagner uprising. It does not the Russian administration to weaken, given Russia’s place in the axis of opposition to the United States. On the morning of June 24, the day after Prigozhin declared his move, Xi Jinping summoned to an emergency meeting members of the Standing Committee and the military leadership. They affirmed this was an internal Russian matter, with which China could not interfere. They were worried about a turning point of Russia losing control over the counterattack in Ukraine and turning to nuclear weapons. On the 25th Qin Gang and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Rudenko met in Beijing, giving China an opportunity to hear Russia’s explanation of the Prigozhin uprising. That night China offered its first official statement in support of maintaining stability in Russia. On June 26 Kurt Campbell stated that the uprising had shaken China. The Xi administration through the media stuck closely to Russia, saying this dealt only a small blow to the Putin administration; however, in a Singapore paper on the 24th a Chinese researcher Yang Jun called on the government to support Ukraine in order to raise China’s international position. Advocacy of reconsidering leaning to the Russian side grew livelier. A draft article in domestic media was quickly censored given the sensitivity of public opinion concerning China’s Russia policy.
A June 1 Yomiuri article discussed Chinese criticism on May 31 of the US and South Korea for pressuring North Korea. The foreign ministry called for reopening dialogue and keeping a balanced approach. A separate article explained South Korea’s retrieval of missile parts from the ocean following the failed launch by North Korea of a “military spy satellite.”
In the July Toa Jiang Longfan assessed China’s approach to Sino-North Korean relations since Kim Jong-un took power, arguing that it is based on interests, assuming that those are wholly geopolitical and center on China’s core interest in the Korean Peninsula. In essence, breaking up the US-ROK alliance and keeping North Korea as an ally top other concerns. If that is the case, then there was never any hope of winning China’s cooperation in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program, but Jiang does not mention that. In 2013 Pyongyang harshly criticized China for its responses to its attempted satellite launch and nuclear test. Given Jiang’s arguments, it is not clear why China responded as it did. In the first half of 2014, China briefly cut off oil exports, and relations cooled rapidly. Officials from both sides had visited in 2013, but that did not help. When Xi in 2014 visited Seoul, not Pyongyang, it brought the chill into the open. Yet, the year 2015 was more positive, including a North Korean official joining the anniversary parade on September 3 and a Chinese official at the 70th anniversary celebration of the establishment of the workers’ party. The positive momentum was interrupted in January 2016 by the North’s fourth nuclear test and again with the test of a hydrogen bomb in September. Given the THAAD decision and GSOMIA in South Korea, China perceived a Northeast Asia mini-NATO taking shape. Yet, it reacted against the North when it tested an ICBM, and bilateral prospects were dim.
The mystery in the article is why in 2018-19 China restored traditional, friendly relations, clarifying its support on multiple dimensions. Xi’s October 23, 2020, speech on the seventieth anniversary of the Chinese entry into the Korean War was a telling indicator of China’s support. This was followed by Wang Yi’s message of July 3, 2021, firmly against the US approach and for sanctions relief. Mention is made of Pyongyang’s support for China in 2022 when Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan and of worsening relations with the US and Japan as well as many problems in China-ROK ties, making the strategic importance of North Korea greater. Seoul has crossed a red line on Taiwan, Jiang asserts, and it is now necessary to rebuild relations with North Korea with economic assistance and security cooperation as a key element to address the peninsular question and Northeast Asian regional cooperation. This is China’s only legal ally. A vague alliance must turn into a clear-cut one. Yoon has chosen a “three-eyes alliance” with the US and Japan to pressure North Korea, and joining with Russia is needed in support of a dual-track approach to advance in stages for sanctions relief. If there is a seventh nuclear test, it will be a challenge for China, causing damage to it, but so too have triangular US alliance ties. North Korea should quickly become part of the BRI. Sanctions must not prevent humanitarian aid and support for people’s livelihood. Xi has promised Kim China’s support for the stable, healthy development of North Korea’s economy. The two leaders have reached consensus for all-around cooperation in security and economics, concludes the article.
On June 9, Yomiuri carried an article on the expansion of BRICS, saying it would not contribute anything to global stability. It reported on a meeting of the five current foreign ministers in South Africa, anticipating a summit there in August. In 2022 China expressed its desire to add twenty-plus countries, thirteen of which were invited to this meeting, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Indonesia. Countries seeking to join expect Chinese economic assistance and BRICS financing. One cannot stop the movement in the “Global South” toward BRICs for countries’ national interests. The problem is that China and Russia intend to forge an international order in which their interests are foremost, counterbalancing the US and Europe and also disparaging universal values. There is a gap in BRICS between China and Russia on one side and a more cautious India on in warmth to the speed and scale of expansion. India sees itself as the leader of the “Global South” and neutral in foreign policy, not leaning to either the US and Europe or to China and Russia. India does not want China to increase its influence through BRICS expansion. Inviting India and Brazil to the Hiroshima G7, Kishida was thinking about strengthening ties to the “Global South.” It is important to Japan to deepen cooperation on economics and technology while advocating the importance to each country of universal values.
Kitaoka Shinichi in Yomiuri on June 16 argued that many in the G20, apart from China and Russia and the G7, do not trust the Europe-US style and have not joined in sanctions against Russia if against its invasion. They object to double standards, recalling the 2003 US attack on Iraq. They seek autonomy without opposing universal principles. Seeking a more moderate approach, they do not support the aggressive manner of the West.
In Gaiko, May-June, Yoshida Toru discussed the changing nature of the G7. It is no longer just proof of the solidarity of the West, but a US-led entity to resolve diverse problems, which have been piling up. The Hiroshima summit epitomized this transformation covering: assistance to Ukraine, nuclear disarmament, economic security, green energy, and food security as its five pillars. Other themes were Russia, China, AI, the stability of the financial system, the “Global South,” climate, energy, and health. Differences exist, as on the end-game for the Ukraine war. The US sought consensus on Russia and China with European responses in doubt. Japan put forward the “Hiroshima vision,” looking for commitment to Pacific security.
At the G7 the main actor was the “Global South,” argued Yoshida. Without buy-in from India, Indonesia, Vietnam, and others, the G7 could not effectively counter Russia and China. Since 1975, the global influence and power potential of G7 has dropped: accounting from 60 to 45% of world GDP, 15 to 10% of world population, and 60 to 50% of military expenses. The BRICS GDP has climbed to 60% of the G7 figure by contrast. The “Global South” has not taken to Biden’s “democracy versus authoritarianism” or “values diplomacy.” Japan has advocated the “rule of law,” not democracy and sought a common platform with the “Global South.” The G7 eschewed democracy for “defense of the postwar order.” Instead of “decoupling” from China, the term used was “de-risking.” If the G7 takes a confrontational stance toward China, it will be difficult to win the cooperation of the “Global South.” France and Germany too rejected “decoupling” and sought a softer stance on China. Concluding the article, Yoshida argued that the G7 is facing a different world.
An article by Sone Yasuo in the July Toa discussed how both the G7 and China are searching for a relationship with the “Global South,” the key to a new order at this time of historical transition in the world. The G7 summit brought in the “Global South.” China has talked of “South-South” cooperation and seeks to expand its influence in the “Global South,” including using BRICS, the SCO, RCEP, and the G20. China uses its economic clout to try to forge pro-China public opinion. In Southeast Asia China asks countries not to follow the US and act autonomously on the South China Sea. When the G7 summit was taking place, China gathered the five Central Asian states in Xian, pursuing them through the BRI too and demanding mutual respect for core interests, as it prioritizes social stable and sustained growth, putting them ahead of values. It is proving hard to prioritize democracy in attracting the “Global South.” In January, Modi conducted an on-line “Global South” summit with no joint statement and without China. The challenge remains for both the G7 and China to narrow the distance with the “Global South,” readers are informed.
On May 29, Yomiuri lauded the implementation of IPEF through tightened supply chains in an agreement in Detroit on May 27. The remaining three areas of IPEF are delayed, reflecting a gap between the countries of Southeast Asia and the United States. The aim in this first success since IPEF was launched in May 2022 is to reduce dependency on China and diversify suppliers. Led by the US and Japan, this step involves reductions or removal of tariffs. In subsequent talks Japan’s presence is important. It grasps conditions in Asia and can serve as a bridge to the US. The pandemic had demonstrated the risk of reliance on China, the newspaper had explained. On May 31, Yomiuri carried a follow-up, making clear that the US seeks a US-led economic network. It noted that cooperation would deal with material shortages, notably semiconductors and metals. It observed that after the US pulled out of TPP China’s regional influence grew, and in these circumstances the US launched TPP with four areas, but Asian countries seeking more exports to the US see little merit in IPEF. It is important for Japan to be a bridge and to persuade the US to join TPP.
A June 4 Yomiuri article treated Thailand as at crossroads for the US and China, now awaiting the results of its elections. The US has decided not to sell F35 aircraft to it, given the closeness of its military to China. Where Thailand winds up will be significant for the fate of the Japan-US Indo-Pacific strategy. While the pro-military forces lost in the May elections, and the winning parties could adopt policies favorable to Europe and the US, much now is not transparent.
On the 50th anniversary of Japan’s relations with ASEAN, Oba Mie asked in Kokusai Mondai, No. 6, how Japan should deal with the organization. Having boosted ties in 1977 with the Fukuda Doctrine and again in the 1990s after the end of the Cold War, Japan faced Chinese competition there in the 2000s and then the atmosphere of Sino-US strategic competition marked by its own FOIP initiative in the 2010s. Wary of becoming entangled in the containment of China, ASEAN increased its expectations of Japan as a third choice besides the US and China. Japan proceeded to strengthen an equal partnership and to support a new regional order.
ASEAN ties are treated as “autonomous diplomacy” and now entering a new partnership with trust in Japan high, especially after Japan’s assistance in the pandemic. Expectations of Japan are high as an alternative to the United States and China, but the time is over when the focus was how Japan could assist ASEAN. Instead, the goal must be an equal partnership in support of a new regional order based on three pillars: (1) a rule-based order respectful of sovereignty; (2) strengthened defense cooperation with ASEAN or a portion of the ASEAN countries; and (3) advancing human rights and democracy in accord with the “ASEAN Way” of non-interference in countries’ internal affairs. Missing in the article is any mention of cooperation with the United States in approaching ASEAN, even on the military cooperation Japan sought.
Newsweek Japan on July 4 carried Kawato Akio’s commentary on the complicated 50-year relationship of Japan and ASEAN. Kawato linked the visit of the Emperor and Empress to Indonesia, the ASEAN chair, to this milestone. In the first twenty years of rebuilding ties to Southeast Asia after the war, Japan offered assistance in lieu of reparations, compensating for its loss of the Chinese market. After the US lost interest in the area following the Vietnam War, Japan saw a good opportunity for autonomous diplomacy, using ODA to raise living standards (by now totaling $165 billion), as firms built factories there (investing three times as much as in China). The area now has 670 million people with a $3 trillion GDP. With Japan’s effort, ASEAN has become an important member of the “FOIP.” Vietnam and the Philippines fear China’s political pressure, while exports from ASEAN are substantial, readers are reassured despite comments about inequality and corruption.
Modi’s state visit with Biden drew attention in Yomiuri on June 24. Respecting India, which is increasing its influence as the leader of the “Global South,” the US has created the impression of the two countries drawing closer in security, while building up its domestic arms production. This is seen as a strategic partnership for decades ahead, serving to constrain China. On June 28 Yomiuri editorialized on the US-Indian summit, saying it has strengthened cohesion against China. These ties are essential for deterring China. Technological transfers to India are welcomed, an exception for a non-ally, involving jet engines and US drones. The aim is to increase deterrence further, while helping India diversify from arms supplied by Russia, and to accelerate the role of the Quad. Although there are human rights issues with India, priority must be given to the strategy versus China. Japan and the US must not diverge in taking appropriate actions toward the world’s largest democratic country.
On June 29 Yomiuri covered tightening ties among the US, South Korea, and Mongolia regarding reduced dependence on China for important metals. In an Ulan Bataar meeting on June 27 the three agreed on this arrangement critical for electric vehicles, following up a May 30 meeting. The quick outcome was remarkable for economic security, the paper asserts, adding that South Korea, whose ties are drawing closer to Mongolia, served as the intermediary after Foreign Minister Park Jin in August 2022 visited Mongolia and reached agreement on closer ties on precious metals. Since the outbreak of the Ukraine war, Mongolia has drawn closer to China and Russia, including a gas pipeline plan, but it also seeks better ties to Japan and the United States.