Country Report: Japan (October 2020)

Editorial Staff

With Abe Shinzo’s decision to resign for health reasons at the end of August, discussion turned quickly to his legacy, including in international relations. One position was that he transformed Japanese politics, hollowing them out for foreign and domestic decision-making. He not only had been obsessed with amending the Constitution, he violated it with impunity, one read in Gendai Business on August 29, ignoring article 53 on when to call a special session of the Diet. Three key, elderly officials had unprecedented tenures: 71-year old Suga, 79-year old Aso, and 81-year old Nikai. Despite slogans of reform, these were not forces for transforming Japanese society, reducing the gender gap, achieving digital transformation, or addressing climate change. The world over these 7 ½ years has changed dramatically, not Japan. Abe put people at ease while debate on needed reforms hardly progressed. Slogans were presented, but there was no vision for economic revival, and finally stability and slogans proved to be no match for the pandemic. Having opted for the status quo in Abe’s tenure, Japan must now face reality.

On foreign policy, three perspectives were pronounced. One held that Abe was less pro-US than other Japanese prime ministers had been, but that legacy was in jeopardy with a weaker short-term leader. He dared to defy the US on Russia with autonomous diplomacy and was exploring a softer line with China at odds with the hard line gaining ground in Washington. Diplomacy has also diverged on Iran. Such autonomy is at risk as a new leader cozies up to Washington. A second viewpoint is that a weaker leader will not defend Japan’s national interests, allowing China, Russia, and South Korea to join forces in opposing Japan on territorial issues. Weakness toward the US is not the issue here but toward neighbors. A third standpoint is to reinforce relations with Washington in solidarity as dangers mount in the Indo-Pacific region. Autonomy from the US or obsession with Japan’s territorial disputes must be secondary to the continuing challenge of keeping the US engaged and coordinating strategy. 

Abe’s legacy

On August 29 Yomiuri asked about the impact of Abe’s resignation for the US, China, and South Korea, given the immediate responses in these countries. The US was uncertain if it would affect its Asia policy. China was concerned that it would exert a negative impact in light of tense ties to the US. As for South Korea, the resignation was viewed as possibly leading to a softer position on the former forced laborers. The impression in each case is that personalized relationships have influenced bilateral ties and that Abe’s departure is likely to impact these connections and policy.

Newsweek Japan on August 31 took a negative view of Abe’s tenure. Referring to his promises for the Senkakus and Takeshima, the author considers Abe a failure. He stopped the annual government-sponsored ceremony for Takeshima, and he backtracked in withdrawing from the Kono-Murayama statements of the 1990s. The “comfort women” agreement with South Korea deeply disappointed conservatives too, readers are told. Criticism of anything that Abe began to be called “anti-Japan.” Will China give Suga time to decide how to respond to its overtures? If Trump wins, will he press on burden-sharing?

On August 31 Gendai Business observed that some abroad had switched from seeing Japan through WWII eyes to praising its new outlook. It had boosted its self-confidence, gained stability, and shown that it can ably manage great powers was the message conveyed.

On September 1 Daily Shincho attacked Asahi for its treatment of Abe, complaining about its August 29 editorial, which charged that Abe had damaged the foundation of democracy. It adds that a national leader is normally judged primarily on diplomacy, defense, and economics. Here, however, two recent scandals are blown out of proportion. The article notes that one of Abe’s top achievements was launching the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy, drawing broad support, including from Great Britain and France. He forged stable relations with Obama and deep trust with Trump. As opposed to Asahi’s focus on new resolving the Northern Territories and abductee questions, dealing with very difficult states, the article seeks a fairer, all-around assessment. It disagrees with Asahi’s evaluation of collective security, an historic achievement.

On September 1 Newsweek praised Abe for changing Japanese consciousness on security. His resignation is seen as a loss for the rules-based international system. Of the five countries key to defending that order, only France will be left with a leader defending it, readers are told. The article proceeds to claim that Abe is the most successful postwar prime minister, expanding the role of Japan internationally and attempting to protect the rules-based international order. He faced the dual challenge of Japan’s role in the world diminishing and the security environment in Asia destabilizing. This praise was representative of much of the media coverage. On the same day Newsweek observed that China is cheering the end of the Abe era while the US is concerned. Abe prepared well for returning to the top post after being away for about 5 years. Ranking the most consequential leaders in postwar era, Abe is placed with Yoshida and Nakasone. He proved that Japan will never be a tier-2 country. The FOIP vision is his most important foreign policy legacy, changing the way the world thinks about competition with China. Defense is the other big legacy, as Article 9 was reinterpreted; when Japan could not afford any longer an alibi. It needed the US more. Abe’s apology over history was largely accepted. He managed Trump well, and he gave Trump an Asia policy.

Gendai Business on September 5 asked why the world and Japan differ in their evaluation of Abe so sharply. While some in Japan had opposed Abe’s “comfort women” agreement with Park Geun-hye, the effect was that South Korea lost its “Japan card,” and Abe on the historical question put Japan in a superior position to South Korea. Abe feared the division of international society over nationalism and identity, and he prioritized the liberal international order. When “America First” threatened international society, Abe succeeded in maintaining the Trans-Pacific Partnership and refocusing on FOIP. On China, he reestablished a degree of political compromise not seen since the Senkaku clash, under Democratic Party of Japan (DJP), while pressing China over “law and order” in all sorts of multilateral forums. Yet on two issues he strove to resolve—North Korean abductees and the Northern Territories—Abe had no success. After all, the North saw him as the one in 2001 who had damaged ties by insisting on not returning the abductees who had been allowed to visit. He raised Japan’s international stature, which his successor must take as a starting point. Abe also recognized the role of strength, including non-military diplomatic power and soft power. The next leader will be tested on this. While it is recognized that Japan is losing power over the long run, it is putting aside thinking only about one’s own country, supporting internal diversity, and stressing harmony with international society. Given that domestic rightists and leftists’ stress on different vectors think of only Japan (ikkokushugi), it is questionable whether the successor will continue the art of adopting policies that do not veer excessively to one side or the other.

Kitaoka Shinichi in Yomiuri on August 29 praised Abe’s 2015 70th anniversary statement as well-received abroad and winning support or consent from both the right and left at home. His diplomacy was realistic, but his successor will not simply be able to continue his policies, given the lingering challenges. He will have to find his own approaches, readers are told.

On September 3 on Jiji, it was reported that Abe has pushed for Suga and could expect to have some say in a Suga administration. Quickly the LDP had swung behind Suga. Meanwhile, there were rumors that Abe’s departure was prompted not only by health but also by low poll numbers and a sense that he lacked what it might take to turn things around.

Suga’s agenda

On September 20 Nishi Nihon Shimbunsha asked for a remake of Japan’s policies to nearby states while asking how Japan should respond to the fierce Sino-US struggle for hegemony. It held that Suga cannot simply carry Abe’s legacy forward, which invited stagnation in ties to neighbors. The biggest issue is how to face China amid the long-term battle of freedom versus communism. Xi Jinping has made clear that he wants to strengthen bilateral ties in a bond fit for a new era. To go forward with a summit with Xi would enable China in its behavior to cause damage to the international order and human rights. One cannot overlook the four issues of Hong Kong citizens, China’s ethnic minorities, the Senkakus, and the South China Sea. Japan needs to join forces with the EU and Southeast Asian states against threats to the rule of law and regional stability. The abnormal freeze in ties with South Korea must end. One cannot deny that Abe’s words and deeds bear some responsibility in this matter of historical consciousness even if South Korean political decisions caused this instability. Japan’s change in leadership offers a chance to separate history from economics and security and find common cause with a neighbor that respects freedom and democracy. The strategy toward Russia, which has only hardened its position on the territorial issue amid talks, must change. Suga says he prioritizes the abductee issue. North Korea is a threat. There are limits to relying on Improved US ties to deal with this threat. More cooperation with neighboring states is desirable.

Newsweek on September 24 asked how Suga would deal with China and Russia. Although he is expected to almost adhere to Abe’s foreign policy, on security he may not have similar zeal to enhance defense capabilities, breaking the constraints of postwar Japan. The priority now is to counter the pandemic and its economic impact. Abe’s goal of stronger diplomacy is secondary. The new leader will be tested with the revision of national security strategy in 2021 and with the debate inside the LDP on how missile defense should proceed.

Mainichi editorialized on October 8 on the Quad meeting in Tokyo, which agreed to promote the FOIP, democracy, and the rule of law. The aim is seen as coordinating interests with a rising China while countering intimidation and threats to freedom of navigation. China is exacerbating relations with Australia and India. However, if tensions are raised against China, the region will be unstable and not prosper. At the meeting Pompeo was anti-China and stressed containment against pushback from Australia and India, which insisted on an inclusive framework. On security, Japan and India were reluctant. Suga intends to strengthen economic ties with China, which is appealing to Japan to improve relations. Japan can work with both the US and China on international rules for the digital economy. Most important is long-term stability, Mainichi said.

Asahi on October 8 also editorialized about the Quad meeting, warning against using it as a tool for US hegemony and noting that Australia and India are cautious about challenging China. Yet it added that China would be making a mistake if it opposed this movement to stabilize the region in response to China’s expansion in the South China and East China seas. Having said that, the editorial found Pompeo’s language too strong on China and that the US-China feud is not desirable for Japan and Australia, given their economic ties to China, and India, which will continue “non-alignment.” The US wants a multilateral security framework, which would deepen regional tensions and divisions, warned Asahi.

Yomiuri on October 7 emphasized the important role of the Quad, after foreign ministers had met in Tokyo. Quad meetings will now be held regularly and promote the FOIP. The initiative of Abe and supported by the US has advanced further after increasing the presence of Japanese diplomacy in the international community. The stress is on the maritime arena, with China charged with repeatedly trying to change the status quo in the East and South China seas, as Japan urges it to restrain itself, centered on the Japan-US alliance, in cooperation with Australia, India, and the member states of ASEAN. More needs to be done, the article says, for the cooperation between Japan, the United States, Australia, and India to spread to security in the economic and cyber fields. It will greatly contribute to regional stability. Another issue raised is India’s refusal to join RCEP, fearing a flood of cheap imports, while Japan and Australia are ready with China. Three new diplomatic moves are noted: Suga going to Vietnam and Indonesia in October, emphasizing Southeast Asia. European countries warming to the Indo-Pacific concept as they grow more vigilant toward China’s hegemonic behavior; and Wang Yi considering a visit to Japan as Japan urges China to change its behavior.

The Korean Peninsula

Foresight on September 12 reviewed eight years of Abe’s peninsular diplomacy, faulting him for regretting not solving the abduction issue, signing a peace treaty with Russia, and securing a constitutional amendment, but not saying a word about the worst Japan-South Korean relations. It is not just because of a mismatch with a progressive government since ties with conservative Park Geun-hye were also not a good match. At her inauguration, Aso Taro, representing Japan, provocatively drew a parallel with differing views of the Civil War in the US North and South, as if Japan need not rethink its view of the past rather than reassuring South Korea. Park gave her response on March 1 that Japan must take responsibility and face history correctly. Instead, Abe practiced historical revisionism in his early tenure, making one offensive move after another in the eyes of Koreans, insisting that he was protecting the pride of history and tradition.

Catering to his hardline support base, Abe deepened the conflict with Seoul. Then, he was gradually forced to retreat on the Kono Statement, the 70th anniversary war statement (half-hearted as it was), and finally the “comfort women” agreement. Anti-Korean feelings spread in Japan as the conflict over history was revived and spread in 2019 to trade due to Japan and security due to Korea. The article says that Abe’s supporters are anti-Korean and Moon’s are anti-Japanese. On February 9, 2018 Moon was trying to get Pence to meet a North Korean guest at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, but Pence and Abe were deliberately late, and after Pence hurriedly left, Abe’s dialogue with Kim Yong-nam was viewed as not helpful. Planned talks between US and North Korean officials were then cancelled by the latter due to Pence’s hardline statements to Abe in his stopover in Japan.  Abe was blamed for obstructing Moon’s plans. In 2019 it was Abe’s turn to host a big event, the G20, but he did not talk to Moon, while Trump suddenly refocused on a face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong-un, stealing the thunder of the G20, which was blamed on Moon. The article concludes that the people suffer from these mismatches.

In Gendai Business on September 21 Suga’s anger at Moon Jae-in was discussed. On August 28 South Korea had issued a statement on Abe’s resignation, but Japan did not respond. On the 16th, the South Korean presidential office revealed that the former Abe and Mrs. Abe had sent a letter to Mr. and Mrs. Moon Jae-in on his departure. At the same time, on the same day, Moon announced that he had congratulated Suga on his inauguration and sent a letter saying, “While Prime Minister Suga is in office, we will make efforts for the further development of Korea-Japan relations.” The announcement also gave the impression that Japan and South Korea were having a breathtaking exchange. However, according to the Japanese government, the resignation greetings of Abe and Mrs. Abe were sent to a number of people. Suga had a friendship with former ambassador to Japan Lee Byung-ki, who was instrumental in realizing the “comfort women” agreement. Lee was arrested on suspicion of sending secret funds to Cheong Wa Dae when he was the director of the National Intelligence Service after the inauguration of the Moon Jae-in government. At the time, Suga said, “I was very angry with the Moon administration. It was noted that the South Korean side is presenting various ideas to solve the forced labor problem at an informal exchange of opinions. However, there is still a distance from the Japanese side’s position that damaging the defendant company will lead to the destruction of the claim agreement, so it will not be allowed at all.” Due to this situation, a Japan-China-Korea summit meeting, expected to be held by the end of the year, has not been set. Immediately after Korea became the president this year, it showed the Japanese side that it would like to hold a trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting around October and then a summit meeting. However, lately, in addition to the coronavirus and the stagnation of Japan-South Korea relations, the change of Japanese prime minister has led to no progress at all. Within the Japanese government, it was said that if the Korean assets of Japanese companies are cashed after the foreign minister or prime minister visits Korea, it will be a problem.

North Korea had strong distrust of Abe over his handling of the abductee issue in 2002 and has waited for his resignation. It is said that the North expects $20 billion as part of normalization of diplomatic relations with Japan, including a sizable sum for resolving the abductee issue. Yet first international sanctions would have to be dropped. The article argues that Abe gave up on Japan-US-ROK cooperation and focused on FOIP, but the US still seeks the former too.

China

Shicho on August 31 found China becoming more aggressive after COVID-19 emerged and it passed a national security law for Hong Kong as international society failed to respond. The ongoing shift in the international power balance has intensified, and Japanese are recognizing the growing danger they face, as in developing countries China’s influence has grown stronger.

On September 7 Gendai Business focused on China’s actions in the East China Sea, pointing to the increased incursions of Chinese ships since May by the Senkaku Islands and the more heated situation in August. In May Chinese coast guard vessels chased Japanese fishing boats, A fishing closure period was declared by China in early August, arousing a sense of crisis in Japan over the escalating situation. The article calls for not overreacting since a 1997 agreement allows fishing boats of both sides to operate according to their own laws. The Chinese side has confirmed its claims without violating the agreement. While the Obama administration has been criticized as the cause of China’s advance in this maritime area, it repeatedly asserted that the Senkaku Islands fall within the scope of Article 5 of the security treaty. After all, the Japanese archipelago is the most important strategic base for US global strategy. If a military clash were to occur, international capital would flee China—a nightmare for that country. Thus, China is just posing, not to appear weak to preserve CCP power, not actually to seize the islands. Yet Japan needs to enact a law to strengthen the basis of its own maritime movement in this territory.

On September 11, Gendai Business asked if Abe’s successor will abandon the Senkakus. With Abe’s sudden resignation, the LDP has no idea what it wants to do other than staying in power, similar to 2006 after Koizumi resigned, leading to the opposition gaining power in 2009. In a super-aging society, old men have vied for the top post with little sign of younger successors or women rising. The author sees failure in no constitutional amendment, no civil servants placed on the Senkakus, no abductees returned, and no return of the Northern Territories. A contrast is made between Japan’s appeasement of China with the US firmness to China, while China takes an increasingly hard line to the Senkakus. The Komeito hold a critical ministry despite being closer to China. If Japan loses the Senkakus, the loss of Okinawa is only a matter of time. There is mention of a “tripartite alliance”—China, South Korea, and Russia—all subjects of territorial disputes and ready to support each other. Japan will be blamed internationally for breaking the status quo after China establishes itself on the Senkakus. But Suga and the other main candidates are unwilling to compete with China. Only stationing people on the Senkakus will serve Japan.

Expressing concern that Abe’s realist diplomacy would disappear, Sato Masaru in NewsPost on September 11 praised Imai Takaya, secretary to the prime minister, and Kitamura Shigeru, director of the National Security Bureau, as positive influences. He argued that the Abe administration’s degree of pro-Americanism was not so high, as seen in diplomacy with Iran and the suspension of Aegis Ashore. Sato fears an ideological pro-Americanism, including joining in sanctions against Iran and Russia and a more hardline position against China. When reminded that each of the long-term postwar prime ministers was clearly pro-American—Yoshida, Sato, Nakasone, and Koizumi, as well as Abe, Sato Masaru responded that all administrations have been pro-US but to differing degrees, but despite Abe’s person ties to Trump relations with the Pentagon and State Department recognized Japan’s autonomy, similar to what had happened under Abe’s grandfather Kishi. Sato is deeply concerned that this kind of realism will be lost.

Yomiuri editorialized on September 24 on the rival Chinese and US speeches at the General Assembly, blaming both sides. It is important to strive for international cooperation, not “home country first,” because diplomacy is restricted due to the effects of infectious diseases. It would like the leaders of both the United States and China to be aware of their responsibilities. Trump had some reason to criticize China for the delay in disclosing information about the virus, but Yomiuri argued that the urgent task is for countries to work together to contain infectious diseases and restore the world economy. Trump should be aware that the “home country first principle” will result in the loss of national interests. Yet Xi Jinping’s claim to be leading in international cooperation cannot be taken at face value. China is promoting the conversion of the South China Sea into a military base, and Hong Kong is strengthening its oppression to deny “one country, two systems.” Both ignore international law and promises. The editorial concludes with an appeal to both countries.

On September 24 Yukan Fuji called on the US to establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan. It predicted that newly resigned ambassador Terry Branstad would make this appeal as an October surprise.

On October 1, Gendai Business assessed Nikai Toshihiro’s role in relations with China. Toshihiro Nikai, who is the secretary-general of LDP and has a deep knowledge of the tourism industry, is one of the few politicians who manages Japan-China relations alongside Komeito’s Natsuo Yamaguchi. Talk of discontinuing Xi’s visit to Japan is countered by Nikai. But that is equated with Munich appeasement. Japan was critical in 1989-92 in preventing China’s isolation, seen in China as the weakest link in the Western camp. The Chinese side will do its best to support Mr. Nikai so that he will not collapse and lose his position in Japan, and he will try to control Japanese politics and diplomacy through Mr. Nikai. It goes without saying that he is an influential person who conducts politics based on the interpersonal relationship of trust, before the grand design of what to do with Japan-China relations and how to envision Japanese society.

Evening Fuji on September 30 discussed defense minister Kishi Nobuo’s pro-Taiwan position, as reflected in a January Seiron article. He was chairman of a group of young Diet members keen on promoting economic and cultural ties with Taiwan. He said that Taiwan cannot be left as is, and he called for free movement of deputy ministers and dispatching mid-level SDF personnel on exchanges. As China’s military hegemony in the East China Sea expands, Japan and Taiwan will need to cooperate more. The article concludes with a call for a security framework including the US as well.

Russia

In Friday Digital on September 4, the question was raised about how the next prime minister would deal with Putin. Despite troubling behavior by Putin, now including the Navalny poisoning, Japan has kept pro-Russian policies to keep Putin happy in hope of resolving the Northern Territories issue. Yet the talks ended disastrously, the article concludes, adding a long list of dangerous and evil Russian policies, With Suga’s victory ensured and suggesting much continuity in Japan, can the policy to Russia change? No, readers are told, he will be interested in avoiding responsibility for his own failure in conducting Russia policy.

Hokkaido News UHB on September 3 discussed Russia’s celebration that day of “victory against Japan” and its legitimizing of control over the Northern Territories, reporting on the speech by the governor of Sakhalin and on ceremonies on the islands.On September 8 Sunday Mainichi took a fresh look at Abe’s policy toward Russia, considering his claim to success in diplomacy and making Japan into the same middle power as Germany. If he did not do well with Russia, he did with the US and China, justifying the view that his greatest success was diplomacy. Putin said that territorial questions are not settled without war, hinting that the 1969 Sino-Soviet battle was a factor in resolving one dispute. Overall, Abe did have success in diplomacy. Suga will not be able to duplicate that. His will be a short-lived cabinet and relations with China and the US will be challenging, while a big event may occur, argues Nakahara Nobuyuki.

Sankei on September 11 printed the views of Sergey Agafonov that the window for solving the territorial issue with Russia is closed with Abe’s departure, while asking if the window had really been open. As long as Japan defends its position that four islands are illegally occupied, no progress is made due to Russia never tolerating any review of the results of WWII. The Japan-US security treaty was an insurmountable obstacle. To modify it to assure Russia that no US forces would be placed on the islands would have led to a complete review of Japan-US diplomatic relations. Apparently, Abe was inclined to do so, but the opposition in the LDP and the bureaucracy was too strong. The article faults Japan for not realizing its potential diplomatically,

Om September 18 Hokkaido Shimbun indicated that Suga lacks interest in the Northern Territories. Suga said that he would follow Abe on both domestic affairs and diplomacy but did not mention the islands in his inaugural press conference. On foreign affairs Suga says little except on North Korea. In any case, just taking the Abe route means continuing the dead-end talks. Insisting again on the return of four islands must be clarified, and negotiations resumed. Abe was weak in pointing to Russia’s unjustified claims. To reach a breakthrough, it is necessary to change an attitude of reluctance as well as a multi-layered strategy to draw Russia into the talks in light of the international situation. On September 23 Hokkaido Shimbun carried an article on Russia policy under Suga, suggesting that Kantei-led summit diplomacy may be replaced. Putin is wary of Japan leaving Russia, but it has not altered its position on the Northern Territories issue. Even the joint economic activity on the four islands has become more uncertain. When Suga had been asked about how to make a breakthrough, he mentioned using Abe, Mori Yoshiro (who negotiated with Putin two decades ago and was a “pipe” for Abe), and Yamashita Yasuhiro, the judo Olympic champion who had served as a liaison. Yet the people who had led the diplomacy are leaving, including Imai Takaya and Hasegawa Eiichi, who was in charge of the joint economic activities, and Suga was little involved in the decision to focus on two islands. The Foreign Ministry, long cautious about Abe’s approach, may regain control.  

On October 2 Nippon.com asked how Suga should deal with Russia, reporting on the views of Kitani Yoshinori. On the territorial dispute, relations regressed. Two things matter: (1) talking about the Northern Territories worsens Japan-Russia relations; (2) and talking about making money improves Japan-Russia relations. Every time Abe stopped talking about territory and only put its focus on money, Putin intensified interest. Abe made a big concession on two islands to no effect. Relations have deteriorated. In November 2012 China proposed to Russia and South Korea to build an anti-Japan united front, even putting Okinawa’s sovereignty in question. Abe tried to improve ties to Russia in response, and China was afraid. Japan has found that if it talks about making money it can keep improving ties to Russia. Japan should team with Russia to prevent China from stealing the Senkakus and Okinawa.

On October 3 in Friday Digital, Suga’s phone call with Putin was assessed. Describing the call on September 29 initiated by Japan as ceremonial, the article suggests that sustaining the Abe stance toward Putin was painful but necessary for Suga, who had assisted Abe. Progress on the return of the Northern Territories had not advanced even a millimeter. There has been no overall review of Abe’s Russia policy, and the talks are hopeless. In the exchange Suga mentioned the territorial issue, not Putin. Mention is made of the forward-looking message conveyed by leaders in Japan to the Japanese media that territorial talks will proceed. Putin highly valued the past relationship with Abe is what the Russian side conveyed. The article is skeptical that the actual contents of the conversation were accurately conveyed and that Japan was not spinning them. It argues that the messages transmitted are meant to mislead the public. Talk of Russia agreeing to the 1956 treaty terms and considering the return of two islands is empty. Similarly, Russian talk of Japan boosting economic cooperation without any land deal is misleading. Japan pretends that Putin hardened his position due to worsening Russo-US relations. The recent phone call was one more classic case of deceiving the Japanese people. Japanese analysis has been wrong since 2001 on Putin’s intentions, and policy toward Russia is destined to continue to fail, readers are told.

On June 6 Gendai Business explained why Suga does not attach much importance to relations with Russia. Abe did, even giving in to unreasonable Russian demands when Putin visited his home town in December 2016. Putin proved that he only wanted a peace treaty without any conditions. While Abe raises ideals, Suga has a sober image. Seko Hiroshige and Imai Takaya were handling the talks, not Suga. Delaying a phone call with Putin (perhaps due to the Russian side), Suga is putting priority on the US, FOIP, the abduction issue, and China, the EU, and South Korea. FOIP is led by the Foreign Ministry, putting it on stabler ground than Russia policy coming from the Kantei. As for wooing Russia to balance China, that proved fruitless. Suga is unlikely to be able to build a relationship of trust with Putin. Russian troops on September 29 began tactical exercises on the Northern Territories, a greeting to Suga. With the poisoning of Navalny stirring the G7, Japan is now more likely to work more closely with that body.

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