Country Report: Japan (June 2018)

Editorial Staff

Kawakami Takashi in Kaigai Jijo No. 3-4, linked Trump’s chaos to America’s decline, leading to a breakdown in the world order. Giving rise to this is the power shift between Washington and Beijing, which is accompanied by a civilizational transfer from the West. US fatigue from the fight against terrorism has accelerated this shift. Instead of ideology, civilizational elements are in play, serving to boost nationalism in the context of globalization. For Japan, sober analysis is needed on how China is filling the vacuum left by the United States, with the danger that any misstep could endanger the country’s existence. As Trump tries to strike a deal with China, more effort is needed to strengthen trust in the alliance, which could fall into crisis as Japan fears abandonment. While systemic issues are raised, Trump is blamed for recent troubles.

Yabunaka Mitoji in the April 20 Yomiuri expressed concern about Japan’s presence in the world being overlooked. While crediting the just concluded Abe-Trump summit with successes, he found that at a time of great tectonic movement in East Asian security there had been a need to remind people of Japan’s presence and that Trump had few staff familiar with the realities of North Korea and past economic negotiations and was prone to sudden decisions leaving Japan on the sidelines. Japan had not been informed of Pompeo’s early April trip to North Korea. In return for a deal eliminating ICBMs, Trump could easily relax economic sanctions. On trade, the history of US-Japan tensions was recalled, leading to the possibility of political pressure to agree on a bilateral FTA, added Urata Shujiro in an adjoining article stressing the Japan-US division.

On April 23 Yomiuri reported on an opinion poll casting doubt on Abe’s foreign policy record. This included doubts about Japan-US relations, despite Abe’s claims of success in his summit with Trump since Trump said that he would raise the abductions issue with Kim Jong-un and hopes raised about the CJK summit in May. Coverage of the summit with Trump was clearly overshadowed by reporting on domestic political scandals. Indeed, the image prevailed of US pressure for a bilateral FTA when Abe had sought the US return to TPP. While Abe’s December 2015 agreement with Park Geun-hye, his Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor meetings with Obama, and his April 2017 summit with Trump all had boosted approval ratings, his April 2018 Trump meeting contributed to a further drop in approval for his cabinet. On April 26 Sankei praised the impact of a long-serving prime minister with a powerful kantei rather than fragmented officials running policy from various ministries, arguing that this is what the public wants and this boosts Japan’s presence in international society, as Japanese groped to fix the line between politicians and bureaucrats at a time when scandals were leading to questions about where it was drawn.

US-Japanese Relations

Japan-passing with the worrisome possibility of Japan-bashing became a popular theme in the Japanese media in the spring of 2018. On North Korea and trade Trump’s behavior raised alarm. If in 2017 Trump’s hardline on the North was seen as reinforcing Abe’s stance and his go-slow approach to actual trade pressure was seen as cautiously acceptable, the situation was entirely changed. Abe scrambled to invoke his purportedly special personal relationship with Trump, but the hastily arranged April summit offered little comfort. The expectation that the US-Japan alliance would be the cornerstone of US policy in East Asia—given more momentum in shared rhetoric in November 2017 about the supposedly overarching theme of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”—bore no semblance to the new reality. With Trump imposing tariffs on Japanese steel while others were being spared and pressing for a bilateral FTA, to which Japan was adamantly opposed, the danger of Japan-bashing after Japan-passing could not be ruled out.

Coverage on April 20 of the Abe-Trump summit acknowledged that a clash had been avoided but noted that trade issues had been put aside for the future. In Sankei the gap between TPP and a bilateral FTA was showcased, and the agreement on a “free and open Indo-Pacific” was seen as nothing new. Abe had tried to reach a joint stand on China’s trade injustices, seeing TPP as the vehicle for surrounding China with a network against them, but Trump treated Japan as a target for import restrictions instead. Whereas Japan seeks working level discussions to manage issues, Trump insists on a top-down approach, making agreement difficult. Sankei worried that if Japan was left as a bystander by Trump, Abe would along with Moon be left facing the danger of a breakdown in the talks and an intensification of pressure. Little trust was shown in the talks.

On May 5 Yomiuri slipped into the assessment of the summit the fact that Trump spoke to Abe about reducing the US troop presence in South Korea during their summit, and Abe expressed concern about disrupting the military balance in East Asia. This serious matter somehow had not been revealed earlier, although the disquiet after the summit may have been linked to it.

Yabunaka and Shirai Shitakashi in the June issue of Chuo Koron raised questions about “deal diplomacy.” They feared that it could lead Trump to a deal with China on North Korea, such as a joint strike against it at the price of US troop withdrawal from South Korea or some US-North Korea deal also removing US troops. What would Japan do, they asked, explaining that US forces in Okinawa would be reduced too. Trump is offering Kim Jong-un a summit too early in the process, substituting “me first” for “America First.” His diplomacy without strategy and personnel engaged in planning, relying on hawkish officials, is testing Japanese diplomacy, they warn, considering that the Korean Peninsula is of vital importance for Japan and China is bent on forging, through BRI, a region centered on itself. The authors fear that Washington and Beijing as two superpowers will cut a deal, leaving Japan out. Yet, they note changes in Sino-Japanese relations: in 2017 Abe and Xi recognized the validity of the 2008 bilateral agreement for joint development of gas fields in the East China Sea. Even so, they grasp for indications of Japan’s significance, as in surveys in 2014 and 2017 in ASEAN countries showing that Japan is the most trusted great power: 33 percent dropping to 25 percent, as China grew from 5 to 14 percent. Japan would be the country to make peace, it followed. Distrustful of Trump and wary of China’s intentions, writers grasp for signs of Japan’s relevance at a time or its exclusion.

In the June Bungei Shunju, Yabunaka and Sato Masaru warned of the danger of Trump deals. Recalling his role as Japan’s representative to the Six-Party Talks in 2003-04 when its position was heard, Yabunaka fears a return to the 1994 situation when Japan was completely excluded and had to foot part of the bill for the Agreed Framework. Sato sees Abe as viewing Moon Jae-in as pro-North Korea and anti-America and stressing values in diplomacy, but to no avail with Trump. Yabunaka sees Trump as expecting Abe to follow what Trump decides, and he finds Trump using trade with China as a “North Korean card.” In these circumstances, Japan also can use ties with China in dealing with North Korea, but improved Sino-North Korean ties narrow Japan’s space to maneuver, warns Sato, while China has room to play its “North Korean card.” The authors agree that the timing is bad for Japan, given domestic politics, but they call for putting such matters aside, as Israel does in its foreign policy, and both tightening ties with the United States and looking for a way to reopen the Six-Party Talks as a way to give Japan a say.   

Ambassador Sugiyama Shinsuke, who took up his post in Washington at the end of March, had an article in Bungei Shunju in May, expressing pleasure that Japan-US support for maximum pressure had opened the door to talks. If the US-North Korea summit takes place, he raised the prospect of a Japan-North Korea summit. He had spent four years posted in Seoul from 2000. Given North Korea’s unpredictability, Japan-US cooperation and trilateral ties with South Korea should be strengthened with China and Russia. Given the close Abe-Trump ties and the closeness of the alliance, Japan will not be excluded. Sugiyama also reminds readers of the free and open Indo-Pacific initiative proceeding in parallel with Abe’s degree of acceptance of China’s BRI plan since June 2017, which need not be in conflict with each other. He also notes Abe ‘s plan to join Putin at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, hinting that Japan has promising diplomacy with both China and Russia that is relevant to the North Korean issue.

Sino-US Relations

A persistent concern in Japanese media in the spring of 2018 was a trade war between the United States and China and its ramifications for Japan. Already on March 21 Sankei warned of Trump’s planned tariffs on steel and aluminum reflecting his America First creed damaging US allies and, thus, pleasing China rather than targeting it as intended. Asahi was no more positive, charging that limits aimed at China would lower stock values around the world and that there would be no winners from a trade war. As alarm mounted, Yomiuri on April 5 editorialized that all parties should get rid of “one-country-ism” and responsibly support international trade, singling out the United States and China. It blamed China for violating intellectual property rights—a problem for Japan and the EU too—for restricting foreign capital in the automobile sector and elsewhere, and for coercing technology transfers. Yet, it faulted Trump’s disregard for international rules and insistence on bilateral deals rather than working with other states in a joint response at the WTO. The editorial cited Japan’s responsibility for standing behind free trade through the WTO. That day Yomiuri buttressed its case by warning of the impact of the US trade restrictions against China, including on Japanese firms, mentioning Fuji Xerox copy machines among others. It cited a JETRO survey that found more than 32,000 Japanese firms in China in 2016, but it concluded that if Washington went forward with restrictions on China, there would be only a limited impact on Japanese firms. A month later on May 5 Yomiuri reported on a US trade delegation to China, suggesting US concern about China’s program for 2025 to attain the top level in the world in ten areas of high tech. It is the means China is using to reach that goal that is disturbing the United States. Faulting US protectionism too, the paper anticipates long-term trade tensions between China and the United States.

On May 13 Tanaka Akihiko in Yomiuri took a broader look at the trade talks between the United States and China. He observed that Trump is leaning more and more to protectionism and that if a trade war were to ensue between the two states, there would be a huge impact on the world economy. Tanaka adds that their current bilateral negotiations are not just about trade; they are about the world order in the 21st century. He casts doubt on China’s claim that the 2025 program for made in China is just economic in orientation and not military, observing that in the 19th Congress last fall and the March legislative assembly, China’s intentions became clear to be a strong country with a model exported to developing countries under authoritarian rule. Tanaka finally asks if control of world industry can be put in the hands of an Orwellian state.

Sankei on May 4 carried a survey on concern over a trade war between the United States and China. Of 126 firms, 60 percent were concerned that it would lead to a decrease in trade and stagnation in the world economy. 70 percent did not appreciate Trumps’ protectionism. No firms supported Trump’s moves, while some declined to comment. Japan too would suffer.

On June 1 Foresight took a close look at the looming Sino-US trade war. Despite some talk of a truce, the gap is not narrowing, the article warned. It was not optimistic about the third round of talks in early June, warning that the US side has little trust in China, including over the North Korea issue, and the biggest issue is infringement of intellectual property rights. Pessimism on trade as well as North Korea, Trump-Abe relations, and Japanese domestic politics casts a dark shadow on Japan beyond anything recently seen as the half way point of 2018 is nearing. Signs of hope in Sino-Japanese relations hardly can compensate for the string of disturbing news.

Sino-Japanese Relations

On April 18 Wang Yi’s visit to Japan prompted Asahi to see a big opportunity for Japan to take advantage of China’s new, positive posture after several years when relations had been the worst they had been since normalization. China’s shift is attributed to: instability in Sino-US relations in North Korea cooperation, trade, and military matters; Xi Jinping’s priorities in China’s neighborhood in his second term; and a slowdown in China’s economy coupled with Trump’s protectionism, which led it to propose a resumption of Sino-Japanese economic talks. Whatever the reason, the paper calls for Japan to take the initiative in broadening the scope of improved ties, seeking to dissuade China from relaxing sanctions on North Korea, to improve investment conditions, while calming conditions in the East China Sea. Asahi noted that Wang Yi was seeking more Japanese cooperation on BRI, warning that strong efforts are needed to prevent another setback to relations. Having spent seven years in Japan, even as ambassador, Wang was known as pro-Japan (shinichiha) before repeatedly criticizing Japan in recent years. Now he has reverted to being an enthusiast for closer ties, attributed to his greater freedom to speak his mind since he was elevated in March to vice premier as well as being foreign minister and is now secure. Yet, Asahi warns that he will be looking closely at Japan’s response to overtures.

On May 5 Yomiuri headlined its first page with news of the unprecedented phone call the previous day between Abe and Xi, stressing agreement on denuclearization and the resolution of the abductee issue before specifying in the article significant differences. For Abe maintaining maximum pressure and waiting for concrete North Korean actions in pursuit of a comprehensive outcome contrasted with Xi’s call for dialogue and negotiations to resolve the issue and appeal to Japan to play a constructive role. They did agree on broadening exchanges. The positive fact of a telephone conversation and the agreed principles were the clear focus.

On May 11 Yomiuri editorialized that Sino-Japanese relations should go forward with multi-layered cooperation and trust-building, praising the Abe-Li Keqiang agreement to pursue all-around improvements. It signaled out plans for Abe to go to China followed next year by Xi Jinping coming to Japan, regularizing summits after seven years. Other goals include: a sharp reduction in the pension burden of Japanese firms and their employees in China; an easing of restrictions on imports of Japanese foodstuffs imposed after the Fukushima disaster; transparent and concrete plans that allow Japanese to cooperate on BRI; cooperation through a working group on the East China Sea (missing since Japan nationalized the Senkaku Islands) with a new mechanism to avoid a conflict at sea or in the air; and improved economic relations made urgent by the deteriorating relations with the United States over trade, which, along with Xi’s consolidation of power in his second term, had led China to soften its position toward Japan. Earlier, on April 17 when Wang Yi visited Japan, Yomiuri had welcomed the resumption after 8 years of economic dialogue as the world teetered on the edge of a trade war as Sino-US trade tensions were mounting. Both defended the WTO and its rule-based system and favored the strengthening of a free trade system. But Yomiuri added that protection of intellectual property rights and equitable technology transfers were also needed. Cooperation on BRI should take place on a case-by-case basis through transparency and openness, the article added. Noted just at the end was agreement on close ties in pursuit of the denuclearization of North Korea with no mention that China’s thinking on denuclearization of the peninsula involved a wider purview.

Tokyo Shimbun on May 12was very upbeat about Li Keqiang’s visit to Japan for theCJK summit and then a joint visit to Hokkaido with Abe, asserting that Japan’s reception for him was special and a sign of improving Sino-Japanese relations. It praised local exchanges, a forum for which the leaders attended, and the possibility of cooperation on aging and boosting local vitality, adding that relations are on track for Abe to visit China before the end of the year.

Yoshikawa Hiroshi in the June issue of Chuo Koron offered an explanation of the tensions over trade between the United States and China. Reporting on the “trade war” that was heating up from March with US concern that China would overtake it in the level of technology and would make the 21st century China’s century, he argues that even if China should win the competition, it should be viewed as having alien values, and people should not change their consciousness.

North Korean-South Korean Relations

In the June issue of Bungei Shunju Kuroda Katsuhiro predicted failure after success in North-South relations. He remarked about the extraordinary reversal in 2018 from the danger of war to dialogue pointing to peace, as South Korean television repeated the word “historical.” Yet, Kuroda reminds readers that this is the third such summit with attendant hype, as in the Kim Jong-il boom in 2000. He also doubts that South Korean moves with the North should qualify for the Nobel Prize, given its handling of diplomacy with Japan, going back on its word in 1998 and 2015. Regardless of conservative or progressive, South Korean leaders have a craze for a North-South summit, seeing the nation’s destiny as unification and suffering from a complex over Kim Il-sung as Korea’s heroic liberator from Japan. Kuroda doubts that Pyongyang would shed its nuclear weapons, having boasted of its successes and fearing its internal demise. If there were a war, South Korea could survive despite Seoul’s destruction, but the North has nothing but Pyongyang and would collapse. Thus, fearing US seriousness about using military force, Kim Jong-un chose to talk, also influenced by the impact of sanctions on the economy. In this time of danger, Japanese were much more worried about war than South Korean, buying emergency kits and bicycles for use in escaping. South Koreans in reacting to the dictatorship era talk of the threat from the North had started to feel close to the North in the course of their democratization. Now, in the aftermath of the candlelight demonstrations with their anti-US, anti-Japan, and pro-unification messages, the public is ready to see unification as coming next.

US-North Korean Relations

From the time Trump indicated that he would hold a summit with Kim Jong-un, Japanese were outspoken about their wariness. On March 10 a Yomiuri editorial warned of a “smile attack,” and of a “deal” and sought to counter the image that Japan had been marginalized. It depicted a process that would not be easy and a big role for Japan, calling for a calm attitude, close coordination with the United States, and pursuit of a comprehensive resolution with three parts: nuclear weapons, missiles, and the abductee issue. It was not clear why Japan was assumed to have a big role, given Trump’s lack of consultation in his decision to proceed as well as the poor state of relations with South Korea and the uncertain prospects of trilateralism with Seoul.

On March 10 Yomiuri also explored the responses of South Korea, China, and Russia to this new development. Moon Jae-in had succeeded as a go-between with Trump and in advancing his path of dialogue even if, an adjacent article made clear, the North had a history of violating agreements and rejecting inspections. China was aiming to reclaim the leading role on issues involving the Korean Peninsula, favoring the Six-Party Talks while Xi Jinping was welcoming Trump’s forward-leaning position. Meanwhile Lavrov praised Trump’s move as one step in the right direction, while also advocating the Six-Party Talks and the Security Council as venues.

In the June issue of Chuo Koron, Japan’s alarm about the impact on the United States of North Korea’s “smile diplomacy” was discussed by Machidori Satoshi. He called the sudden drawing closer of US-North Korean relations a diplomatic defeat for Japan. In these new circumstances there is no reason for Washington to give priority to Tokyo rather than to lean to Seoul. Given that it is difficult to predict Trump’s behavior, Tokyo should take a less negative attitude to Pyongyang, while linking up more with Beijing and Seoul and seeking the possibility of a summit with Kim Jong-un. However, now that Japan has lost a sense of stability in its domestic politics, there is a sense that the capacity of the leadership does not suffice for complicated diplomacy, Machidori concludes. In the same issue Hiraiwa Shunji asked how far the transformation in North Korea would go. He reviews the diplomacy, as Kim visited China and won endorsement for “staged” denuclearization and Abe visited the United State and sought maximum pressure for complete denuclearization and more. Inside North Korea, however, high-level meetings did not offer convincing evidence of real change, he warned. The biggest change is in the response of the US side, he adds. Also, Moon Jae-in is eying an early agreement to end the state of war on the peninsula as a pathway to reduced tensions. Kim has no intention to accept CVID and will once again show that North Korea deceives the international community; he must be given no room to escape in the ensuing talks, argued Machidori.

On May 12 Asahi commented on the June 12 date set for the US-North Korea summit, pointing out that the path to denuclearization remains vague as officials now must address the details. It cited risks, raising the prospects of a vague agreement and the wide gap with North Korea’s aim of a gradual process of denuclearization. Did Washington have a plan for what it would offer? The article left this in doubt and emphasized the contrasting positions of the two countries.

China-Japan-South Korea Summit

The summit had added importance due to the long delay before it finally resumed and the two shadows of North Korean diplomacy and Trump’s trade disruptions apart from the very eagerly sought visits of Chinese and South Korean leaders to Japan after periods of deep distrust. On May 10 Tokyo Shimbun described the backdrop with Sino-North Korean and US-North Korean high-level meetings preparing for the Trump-Kim summit and the subtle differences in thinking of the CJK participants on North Korea with Beijing and Seoul differing from Tokyo in agreeing with a gradual process of denuclearization. Separately, the paper stressed the significance of trilateralism for containing US protectionism and Japan’s resentment after the Abe-Trump summit of US trade pressure. Sankei on May 10 focused on anti-protectionism, as it noted progress in pursuing a CJK FTA. It found a lack of concrete steps in opposing Trump’s protectionism with Japan supporting a high-level and high quality of free trade while opposed to China’s violations of intellectual property rights and unfair trade. Japan and China could not find common ground on US-caused trade tensions. Considering the importance of the bilateral talks, the trilateral element was covered rather briefly.

Asahi was particularly positive about CJK filling the vacuum in Abe’s diplomacy at a time of rapid geopolitical change in the region. It pointed to agreement on North Korea and the merits of not relying exclusively on the United States and on hardline pressure. Clearly, this triangle is valued as a long-term mechanism for regional stability. For Yomiuri, this summit was a big deal too, breaking the ice after a frozen period, advancing free trade, and coordinating on denuclearization. Yet, the limitations were also highlighted on May 9 and 10: differences on how to approach denuclearization (with the assumption that Japan was on the same page with the United States) and the absence of concrete free trade measures; a divide between Tokyo and Seoul on the one hand and Beijing on the other in how high quality RCEP and, more importantly, a CJK FTA should be; and Japan’s conditionality in embracing China’s BRI. The summit was a major success for Abe just by going forward, but his diplomacy is no longer the focus of Japanese analysis even if Yomiuri praised understanding on the abductees.

Japanese-Russian Relations

Abe stayed the course on his Russia policy, but his conservative critics may have become more emboldened as Russo-US relations were losing hope. Sankei on March 1 charged that Putin is leaning more to China, turning more hostile to territorial talks with Japan, and conflating the Aegis Ashore and missile defense steps by Japan with purported US containment of Russia. It said that Putin views Japan as just a satellite of the United States, glorifies the seizing of Japan’s islands as part of the victory in WWII, and does not seem to link progress in the pursuit of joint economic development on the islands with resolution of the territorial question.

On April 12 Kimura Hiroshi in Sankei called on Japan to alter its attitude toward sanctions on Russia, warning that it is alone among the G7. Citing the Skripal case in Great Britain, he said that it was time to end Abe’s pursuit of trust-building with Putin in the hope of attaining the return of the Northern Territories that led Japan to defy the G7 on sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea. An important decision needs to be made, he insisted.

Nagoshi Kenro in Kaigai Jijo, Nos. 3-4, described the foreboding security environment around the Northern Territories that was emerging. He referred to Putin’s December 2016 visit to Japan as the climax of negotiations, noting that the Abe-Putin tête-à-tête have progressively shortened from 95 minutes on that occasion to 50 minutes the following April and then only 20 minutes in September in Vladivostok and 15 minutes in November in Danang. Attributing the changes to Russia’s hardline posture, Nagoshi sees regression in the relationship. Twice in 2017 Japanese delegations visited the islands in pursuit of joint economic activities, but Russia was unyielding in discussing a special system, insisting on the application of Russian laws. Russia is using the Japan-US alliance as an excuse, while being motivated by newfound assertiveness regarding the strategic importance of the islands. Whether criticizing the Japan-US alliance, THAAD in South Korea, or Japan’s missile defense such as Aegis Ashore, Russia now views the territorial issue through the lens of world geopolitics. Also fueling this outlook is the arousal of nationalist public opinion and the military and foreign ministry’s opposition to the return of the islands. Nagoshi cites a letter from Shoigu and Lavrov before Putin went to Japan opposing the transfer of even one island. Instead, the Russian military is modernizing on the islands as well as elsewhere on the Kuriles, as seen in local newspapers. He notes: the four islands have extremely important military significance for access to the Pacific Ocean; missile defense is causing an imbalance in world security and poses a great concern; the far-flung islands are at risk; the islands are very useful in opposing missile defense build-ups; the territorial question must be seen through the lens of the alliance, and Japan has to be beg viewed mainly in the framework of world security. Japan raised various proposals in 2017 for joint economic development on the islands—aquiculture, wind energy, tourism, greenhouse vegetables, but Russia was unyielding that its laws apply, leaving unclear how such activities, if they went forward, would have any bearing on the islands’ recovery.

Despite such warnings, Newsweek Japan argued that with a thaw in Japan-Russia relations the two together could resist China’s aim to control the Arctic Sea. It observed that China has now extended BRI to the Arctic. Noting that Abe had attended the gold medal ceremony at the Winter Olympics for figure skater Alina Zagitova and that on May 26 when he was in Moscow she was the recipient of an Akita dog at a ceremony attended by Putin and Abe, the article sees in this Japan’s recognition of Russia as a special great power. This is the year of Russia in Japan and of Japan in Russia with many cultural events planned. Yet, the article attributes trouble in the relationship to Japan’s memories of Russia action at the end of the war and treatment of 600,000 POWs and Russia’s memories of failing to obtain the expected fruits of the Putiatin mission to Japan partly due to an untimely earthquake just after Perry opened the country and of defeat in the Russo-Japanese War. The article argues that times have changed. Russia now is focused on the opening of the Arctic Ocean passage, and it is watching China’s pursuit of an “ice silk road” with concern. China’s naval vessels are moving further north, and Japan and Russia have a shared consciousness of danger. Japan’s interest in parts of the Soviet Union could be seen in its “Eurasia diplomacy” from the late 90s, but it is only BRI that encroaches on the interests of Russia in the former Soviet Union, deeply alarming Putin, who sees the benefit of joining hands with Japan. The article concludes that the time has come for Tokyo and Moscow to set aside their troubles of the past if they are going to stop China advancing in the north.

Japan-ASEAN Relations

Around the time of the April 25 ASEAN summit, Japanese papers turned their attention to the south. On April 23 Yomiuri stressed the focus on concerns over the South China Sea while noting that China insisted that this be addressed in bilateral settings. This prevented a Vietnam-Philippines joint approach, which the article indicates Vietnam would have welcomed. The same paper on April 27 juxtaposed the quest for an order based on rules with China’s secret constraining influence. ASEAN refused to mention China by name, given the weight of China’s economic assistance, but, as the paper asserted on April 29, it restored the word “concern” in the chair’s statement that had been omitted in November. Concern was also expressed about protectionism and the rise of anti-globalization, as Sino-US trade tensions mounted. On May 4 Yomiuri editorialized about ASEAN, pointing to provocations by China such as militarization of its artificial islands and its ships sinking Vietnamese fishing boats. China’s economic support has strengthened some ASEAN ruling groups, as in Malaysia and Cambodia, where opposition groups and the media are being suppressed, the editorial states. The Japan-US “free and open Indo-Pacific” strategy is meant to limit leaning to China. Thailand’s entry into the revised TPP would be welcome as would containing US protectionism and making RCEP a reality. The headline makes clear that the aim is to limit leaning to China within ASEAN.

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