Country Report: Japan (September 2023)


Despite the supposed dog days of August, the summer news from Japan proved quite riveting. In July and August, alarm only heightened over the challenging security environment Japan was facing, while confidence in Kishida’s leadership and the Japan-US alliance remained at a high level. Relations with South Korea drew closer, but Sino-Japanese ties hit another downward spiral. At the end of August, there was genuine alarm over how China was responding to the wastewater discharge from the Fukushima reactor, as harassing phone calls rained down on many Japanese, stones and eggs were thrown at Japanese schools in China, and a boycott of Japanese products took root. Sino-US relations and Sino-Russian relations served as backdrop to Japanese thinking.

In the August 15 Yomiuri, asked to evaluate Kishida’s diplomacy, former ambassador to the United States Sasae Kenichiro saw great strides forward in the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, diversification to the “Global South” at the Hiroshima G7 summit, and success in raising consciousness in Europe regarding security in the Indo-Pacific. Japan is also seeking talks with Xi Jinping at the G20 or APEC this fall, while normalization of trilateralism lies ahead at the Japan-US-ROK summit, as bilateral ties with South Korea are advancing. As for what remains to be done, Sasae called for ending existing restraints in the way of weapons exports to Ukraine.

The main diplomatic undertaking during this time frame was the Camp David Trilateral, where Joe Biden hosted Kishida and Yoon Suk-yeol on August 18. A Yomiuri editorial on August 20 lauded the Camp David trilateral as the first stand-alone summit after 11 others from 1994 and as widening the scope of cooperation from North Korean weapons to Indo-Pacific security broadly. With both Japan and South Korea in the Security Council in 2024, more opportunities for cooperation exist.

The August 19 Yomiuri coverage of the Camp David trilateral remarked on cooperation at a tense time, pointing to agreement on responding to Taiwan as well as North Korea. Highlighting the “Camp David spirit,” it reflected the upbeat attitude in Japan. A separate article on Japan-US talks at Camp David noted agreement on missile development to counter hypersonic weapons. The next day the paper doubled down on coverage of South Korea’s shift toward ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific region, while also warning of leftist opposition to security cooperation with Japan and their control over the ROK budget used for ODA. Other opinions in the newspaper that day raised doubts of political sustainability with US and South Korean political divides making early success essential. On August 24, Yomiuri reenforced the image of trilateral cooperation against China. It noted the August 5 aggressive move against the Philippines by a Chinese ship. It also contrasted the joint statement in November, which did not name China, with the new statement, acclaiming Yoon’s contribution as he boldly took political risks. The article notes that the December Japanese national security strategy listed South Korea third after Australia and India as a partner, but it concludes that the South’s strategic security potential for Japan is greatest if the hurdles of historical consciousness and public opinion can be overcome.

On August 1, Yomiuri discussed Komeito’s opposition to sending weapons to Ukraine, despite a working team of LDP and Komeito officials meeting on the issue. Komeito allows helmet and mine clearing equipment to be sent and resists pressure to act before the Camp David trilateral summit. On August 24 a Yomiuri article explored the effort to relax restrictions on arms exports, which is held up by the discord between the LDP and Komeito. Five types of exports are permitted, but it is unclear whether weapons that kill or maim can be sent. In response to Ukraine’s weapons needs, requests to Japan have been made, and within the government some are welcoming a broadening of exports, e.g., of used engines of F15 fighter jets. Although a working group has been meeting, there is still a big gap between the two parties.


The June 30 Yomiuri covered the Chinese response to the Prigozhin mutiny just days earlier. It stressed China’s desire for the Russian administration not to be weakened, its support for the stability of Russia, and its insistence that the Putin regime had not been weakened. On the 26th Kurt Campbell had said that China was shaken by the rebellion, and a Chinese researcher said in Singapore that Xi’s administration should reconsider one-sidedly leaning to Russia on Ukraine, but China was concerned about the sensitivity of its Russian policy in Chinese public opinion.

The July 1 Yomiuri noted that with Great Britain admitted to the TPP, attention now turns to China’s application. The meeting in New Zealand in mid-June approved Great Britain’s entry, a decision of great significance for the expansion of a high-level free-trade agreement to Europe.  Having applied in February 2021, shortly after its departure from the EU was finalized, London held talks with the eleven members, finishing the process in March 2023 with Japan playing a big role behind the scenes. Despite Trump’s protectionism, TPP expansion serves to strengthen the free trade system. It aimed to contain China’s economic behavior or reform it. In September 2021, the PRC applied for entry, followed days later by Taiwan and then by Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Uruguay, while Ukraine has shown interest. Taiwan’s application is welcome, and it has taken action on such matters as pharmaceuticals and fishing. Various opinions on China can be seen: the unfairness of subsidies for state-owned enterprises; the exclusion in state dealings of foreign companies; data restrictions on the digital economy; and inadequate protection of intellectual property right. Questions have long arisen, and almost no improvement can be seen. In the name of national security, it has reversed course on liberalization.

Given how China behaved after entering the WTO, the major countries agree that entry into TPP would prove difficult. It uses its vast domestic market as a weapon, applies economic pressure as in imposing import restrictions on Australia, and strict conditions for its entry must be required. Vietnam is an exception for state-owned enterprises, but that China could change the very meaning of TPP, and if it were admitted, it would have veto power over the entry of the US, closing that option, which Japan and others seek. It will not be easy to get unanimity for Taiwan’s entry by itself, given China’s opposition. The small size of Ecuador’s market makes some object to its entry. Some states would welcome the entry of South Korea and Indonesia, which have not applied. Moon Jae-in was forward-looking, but some are against market opening, and Yoon has been cautious. The path forward is unclear, and it is important that Japan, England, Australia, and others need work together to explore a path to strategic expansion.

A July 3 Yomiuri article discussed Republican attacks on Biden’s weakness toward China. Trump charged Biden puts China first. DeSantis accuses Biden of being soft on China. To the middle of the Obama administration, US policy welcomed China into international society, mut Obama raised the alarm over China’s hegemonic behavior, and Trump started a trade war. Only 15% of Americans are positive toward China, and just 6% of Republicans. Biden has continued Trump’s China policy, but he allows room for dialogue to possibly reach a course correction. Yet, Mike Gallagher, who chairs the House Special Committee on China, accuses his engagement of being zombie-like. Yet, backed by public opinion, a hardline stance is bipartisan, and there is agreement on large-scale military assistance to Taiwan.

The July 7 Yomiuri covered China’s growing protectionism in purchases by the government and state-owned companies, forcing foreign companies to forge joint ventures or be excluded, impacted by procedures from 2018. Lists are used for suppliers by local governments. This discrimination against foreign companies tests WTO rules, but there is a national security exception. If China were to join TPP, it would have to change.

On July 8 Yomiuri discussed China’s economic security reforms and export controls, with an emphasis on rare earth minerals. In 2014, Japan’s companies worked out a cooperation agreement with China, but by 2021, Chinese companies had seized 80% of the world market, reducing Japanese ones to 20%. This forces other countries to depend on China for such items as solar panels and high-speed railroads. China aims to nationalize the entire production of rare earth minerals. In a follow-u p article on July 9, mention is made of a letter from 11 countries in February concerning Chinese policy on forcing companies to reveal proprietary information, as in the 2020 demands on foreign cosmetic makers. Including daily-use products having no connection to national security to extract information, China has raised alarm. Although in March, it announced a one-year delay in the ruling and at the April France-China summit, China agreed on cosmetics and agricultural goods to establish fair competitive conditions without discrimination, these concessions were the result of repeated, tenacious responses. European companies are increasingly pulling back from entering the Chinese market, which has been politicized by an unfair and non-transparent environment. When Japanese companies consider going abroad, they think of neighboring China with its vast market first, but it is necessary to be conscious of its seizure of technology. Firms must resist entering a joint venture and casually transferring technology was one of the pieces of advice that follows.

The July 11 Yomiuri reported on Xi Jinping’s meeting with the Solomon Islands leader the previous day, stressing security cooperation and countering AUKUS, thus aiming to break the security ring directed at China. In 2022, a Chinese naval vessel docked at the islands. In both security and economics, this summit was seen as a move to counter the US and Australia.

When Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited China, Yomiuri covered it on July 11, saying that dialogue to improve economic ties is continuing but the US and China are a long way from ameliorating their confrontation. Calling Yellen part of the moderate school on China, the paper said a rainbow can be seen in the storm of bilateral relations, as Yellen delivered the message that despite the competition, China should not be perceived as an enemy. The US policy is not decoupling, even as the clash deepens over semi-conductors important for economic security. The paper notes the appeals to Japan and the Netherlands to control these exports to China. It also mentions the July 3 Chinese export restrictions on some precious metals used in semi-conductors. Given the upcoming 2024 elections, it is unrealistic to expect loosening or abolition of restrictions on China. Yet, influential US automakers and financial and IT companies are speaking louder in favor of normalizing ties to the world’s second largest market. The article ends by predicting deeper economic confrontation, which centers on the semi-conductor arena.

In response to the Chinese campaign against Japan’s discharge of Fukushima wastewater, an article in the July 14 Yomiuri denounced Chinese pressure and misinformation. Reminding readers thar the international IAEA had approved the safety of the discharge, the article contrasted postwar Japan’s UN-centric banner with its approval of the fairness and neutrality of international organs and China’s slighting of these organs as in the history war against Japan or South Korea’s negative campaign at UNESCO. With the information war over the US election in 2016 and over the Ukraine invasion, it is more urgent for countries to take counter measures. Japan’s officials need a clear strategy toward international organs in this war of words.

On July 15, Yomiuri discussed how China’s response to the Fukushima wastewater discharge is clouding the improvement in bilateral relations, as Japan asks for China’s understanding. Xi is putting off a decision on holding a bilateral summit. Foreign Minister Hayashi’s April visit to China after a three-year gap in such visits, and hope rose for the first summit since December 2019., but all changed with the discharge issue. A planned parliamentary visit to China is on hold. Meetings in September in India at the G20 and in November in the US at APEC are also in doubt.

Hosoya Yuichi in the July 23 Yomiuri discussed to the international order and China. He traced the role of Japan from its return to the Security Council in January to leadership of the G7 in May to NATO summit in July, striving to reconstruct the order after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as free and open and based on the rule of law. Despite its huge investment and trade role, China has lost international trust in the Global South. With the G20 and APEC ahead, the easy agreement reached at the G7 and NATO will be tested by two systems opposed to each other. International society was fractured in February 2022, and now countries are driven by the need to build up their military power, as is seen in Japan’s three security documents. With competition under way for an historic geopolitical shift, a sense of danger has been growing. Hosoya explains that it is China’s ambitions and hegemonic behavior that are challenging the international order.

On August 1, Yomiuri reported on China’s export controls taking effect with a worrisome impact on Japanese companies although the extent of enforcement is not yet clear. Apart from gallium and germanium, China announced on July 31 export controls on drones from September 1, which affects more than half the drones sold in the US.

Editorializing on the subject of import controls in response to the wastewater discharge on August 3, Yomiuri noted that China had expanded from foodstuffs in ten prefectures to marine products from all of Japan, causing a big impact, given that 20 percent of these exports in 2022 went to China. The paper asked Japan to complain to international society and warned that this would worsen the attitude of Japanese toward China when compounded with its controls on the export of two rare-earth minerals, affecting semi-conductor production. While China claims to be the champion of free trade, it is losing the trust of the international community on this.

On August 4, Yomiuri reported on the half-year supply in storage of gallium as well as the ability to extract it from scrap recycling, ensuring that production would not stop. After China’s 2010 rare earth export controls, Japanese firms upped their recycling activity and with the US and Europe complained to the WTO. The last resort may be taken again.

In the August issue of Toa, Mifune Emi wrote about China’s efforts to rhetorically oppose US and European “de-risking,” pretending that “de-risking” is actually “decoupling.”  She reviewed Li Hui’s May visits to Ukraine, Poland, France, Germany, and Russia, offering not only a plan to halt the war with Russia still occupying Ukrainian land, seen as taking Russia’s side. This is consistent with its statements related to history and indivisible security, reflecting its double standards. In reviewing Wang Yi’s February travel through Europe, Mifune argues that he picked Germany and France as well as Hungary and Italy to maximize the chance of driving a wedge between the US and its allies on China policy as well as Russia. In late May Chinese officials insisted that talk of “de-risking” is actually “decoupling.” The article proceeds to contrast Tony Blinken’s policy of engaging China and narrowing “de-risking” to Mike Gallagher’s criticism of a “zombie” approach.

On August 9, Yomiuri covered Chinese cyberattacks on Japanese government computers, leaking secrets and exposing the weakness of Japan’s defenses as well as the lack of expertise on the Japanese side compared to the legions of Chinese hackers. US media stories reverberated in fear that Japan would not be trusted with secrets, as reported in other Yomiuri accounts.

An August 14 article in Maidon News discussed the expanded definition of spy activities in China, raising alarm in companies present in China. Moreover, Japanese firms in Hong Kong fear the sinification there. The political risk of doing business in China may not be fully grasped yet. Yet, it is difficult for Japanese firms to quit China, but the first priority must be the security of their employees. More than 15 Japanese have been arrested since this law took effect. In February, US media reported that more than 200 Americans were under arrest. The same source on June 19 had pointed to Honda and Mazda leaving China to avoid the China risk, noting the spy law. It noted that in 2022, Honda reorganized its supply chain for parts, and Mazda lowered its reliance on China for parts. Listed are some import restrictions on others, such as Taiwan pineapples and Australian beef and wine. A Chinese economic attack on Japan is considered fully possible if bilateral relations cool.

 The August 30 Yomiuri pointed to the troubles of Japanese restaurants in China doing business in the face of the water discharge anger aroused in Chinese media. Exports to China of both cosmetics and foodstuffs are impacted. The anti-Japan actions resemble those in 2012. A day earlier, an editorial called for calming the situation as Japanese attitudes toward China are also aggravated. It contends that China is using this issue as a pretext in response to Japan’s moves on Taiwan and the US alliance, reminiscent of the economic pressure it applied against Australia three years earlier, driving public opinion against China. Japan should respond calmly toward China and continue to explain to international society the safety of its water discharge.

On August 28, Sankei warned that in September historical remembrance days in China could lead to a repeat of the sort of violent behavior seen in 2012, given the anti-Japan arousal under way by the Chinese government. September 3 is the day to market victory in the resist Japan war, on the 18th the Manchurian incident is marked. On August 29 and August 30, Sankei covered Chinese actions aimed at punishing Japan for the discharge of wastewater, including harassing telephone calls and abuse at Japanese schools in China. The paper called for criticism of China and retaliatory measures for export restrictions. It linked the current situation to Chinese anti-Japanese actions in 2012, accusing China of trying to divert attention from its own economic troubles, as it has done with the “anti-Japan card” tied to historical questions. Yet, Sankei also noted a loss of sympathy with China around the world.


Yomiuri on July 18 editorialized on the theme in Taiwan’s presidential election of January 2024 of how to stabilize relations with China. This election will have a big influence on Sino-US ties. With three main candidates, the situation is complex. The majority of people seek to stabilize relations with China. Two issues used to attack the ruling party are the alleged selling of computer makers to the US and an economic boycott of fruit hurting the economy, blamed on a harsh policy toward China or seen as deepening Chinese interference in the election.

On July 29, Yomiuri reported on Japan’s new defense whitepaper, warning of the danger of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan and describing measures being taken by Japan to strengthen defenses on its southwestern islands.

On August 10, Yomiuri reported on LDP ties to Taiwan, noting former prime minister Aso Taro’s visits strengthening ties on security and economics and raising great expectations in Taiwan with extensive media coverage to the Diet members’ visit. Discussion concentrated on the response to a “Taiwan contingency.” This is the first visit of a current vice-president of the LDP, showing that the LDP’s Taiwan diplomacy is intensifying and following recognition that what has happened in Ukraine could occur in East Asia. Evacuation of more than 20,000 Japanese and economic security centering on semi-conductors were on the agenda.

South Korea

On June 30, Yomiuri reported on the Japanese-ROK financial dialogue, where agreement was reached over China’s hegemonic behavior and countering BRI with high quality infrastructure investments. The swap agreement was revived. Since Yoon took office, relations have rapidly improved. In the background looms China, whose loans have driven high levels of debt, for which usage rights are obtained in lieu of repayment. Lacking transparency, this “debt trap” is leading Tokyo and Seoul to join in infrastructure financing. Yet, Korea’s largest opposition party strongly criticizes Yoon’s Japan policy, and the administration has low support, leaving a rather unstable foundation on which to improve relations.

On July 15, Yomiuri noted the sharp drop in Yoon Suk-yeol’s popularity in South Korea to 32%, attributing it to Yoon’s July 12 approval for the release of Fukushima wastewater and other diplomacy related to Japan. The opposition is capitalizing on this in advance of next year’s National Assembly elections, saying the problem is not only the history question but also the security and health of the Korean people. Japan policy is again a big deal in Korean politics.

Tourism to Japan is returning to the 2019 level, a July 20 Yomiuri article reported. In the first half of 2023 the number of visitors exceeded 10 million (64% of 2019). South Korea was first in June with 545,000, followed by Taiwan with 389,000, and the US with 227,000. China trailed at 208,000, reflecting the PRC ban on group travel to Japan sales. In the second quarter of the year tourists spent 95% as much as four years earlier, boosting spending per person by 32%.

A July 27 Yomiuri article discussed South Korean leftists as “collaborators.” It contrasted Moon Jae-in’s soft approach to the Yoon administration’s recent arrest of a succession of spies, treated under the office for cultural exchange by North Korea and involved in the democracy movement but aiming to weaken the government of South Korea.

On August 16, Yomiuri welcomed Yoon Suk-yeol’s speech the previous day not mentioning the historical question with Japan and calling it a partner but noted that leftists targeted that and attacked Yoon for becoming a spokesperson for Japan. Mention was made of the death of Yoon’s father, who had spent a year in the late 1960s at Hitotsubashi University, returned there as a visiting professor from Yonsei University in 1982, and influenced the thinking of Yoon, who had visited his father in Japan. Yoon’s August 15 speech stressed confronting communism.

North Korea

On talks with North Korea, proposed by Kishida on May 27 to which the North responded that there was no reason not to go forward, Kishida met a representative of the abductee families on July 5 with more talk of wanting high-level talks. Yomiuri on July 6 reminded readers that in 2014 talks began, when the North had promised a full investigation, but it refused to go forward in 2016 and since has said that the issue is fully resolved. Due to the pandemic the North remains wary of contacts, and it does not attend conferences in Mongolia.

On July 28, Yomiuri wrote about the popularity of the Korea Wave in North Korea, a telling sign of the weak loyalty of the younger generation. North Korea treats the penetration of US and South Korean culture as “psychological warfare.” This culture crossed the Chinese border or came by loudspeaker from the South Korean side of the border. In 2020 the death penalty was declared for bringing such culture into the country.  The article views movies and dramas as a weapon in a war being fought over the flow of culture.

The July 29 Yomiuri focused on the July 27 parade in North Korea attended by the Russian defense minister and a member of China’s politburo, calling their gathering a “honeymoon,” as the three states agree on containing the United States. The parade celebrated the “victory” over the United States in the Korean War. The Russia connection centered on arms to support the war in Ukraine in return for foodstuffs, etc. was more conspicuous.  The article points to a gap in warmth toward North Korea, arguing that in comparison to standing committee member Li Yuanchao, Li Hongzhong is at a lower rank, not at the level expected by North Korea.

The August 11 Yomiuri showcased the July 27 military parade unity of North Korea, China, and Russia, confirming that, as 70 years earlier, they ae together vs. the United States, Kim Jong-un welcomed Putin’s decision to draw closer and felt confident of Chinese ties as the rear base for the North after five summits with Xi Jinping in 2018-19.

On August 29, Yomiuri covered the rush home of North Koreans from China after borders were reopened, noting ten buses crossing from Dandong and airport crowds. The returnees face one week of quarantine and thought reform. Attention will turn also whether China will welcome a new group of North Korean workers. Of about 100,000 working abroad, 95,000 were in China.

Kohari Susumu in the September Toa juxtaposed North Korea’s July 27 celebration of the 70th anniversary of “victory” in the Korean War with the Camp David trilateral. He cited a series of celebratory articles in July and August and the visits of high-level Russian and Chinese officials as boasting of a three-way grouping but privileging Russia over China with attention to North Korean arms exports. Kohari also asked if the US aim was a trilateral military alliance. As Kim Jong-un prepares for war, Yoon Suk-yeol seeks to end “leave Japan” In Yoon’s August 15 speech, he contrasted North and South Korea, using the words “communism” six times and “freedom” 27 times, while making no mention of past history with Japan. Japan was treated as a security and economics partner with shared universal values and common interests, as well as the rear base for containing North Korea. Opposition parties strongly criticized Yoon. At Camp David, China was criticized by name, Yoon agreed that Japan and the ROK would cooperate if either were attacked, and he expressed trust in the IAEA judgment on the water discharge. While conservatives and the political middle saw a diplomatic turning point and a plus for security, there was worry that the return of Trump would ruin it. The opposition focused on the water discharge and expected a payoff in next year’s National Assembly elections. Ahead, China and North Korea are bound to intensify their negative responses to what transpired.


The July 18 Yomiuri reported on the expanded prohibition on exporting used cars to Russia, where they are very popular. From April 2022, export of cars worth more than 6 million yen has been prohibited. Now all hybrid and EV vehicles are included.  The value of Japanese exports to Russia in 2022 fell by 30 percent, one-quarter of which came from 200,000 used cars. Now, the impact will be more used cars for the Japanese domestic market, lowering prices. This new move follows the May G7 agreement to expand export controls over vehicles.


Yomiuri on July 15 covered the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Jakarta, treating it as a Sino-US battle for influence when ASEAN states sought to avoid entanglement in the struggle over Taiwan and South and East China sea policies. Also at play during the July 14 gathering was Russia’s attempt to garner support in Southeast Asia and the US appeal to condemn its war. A third theme covered most intensely was the discharge of Fukushima wastewater. The response of China’s Wang Yi was called playing the “anti-Japan card.”


The July 4 on-line SCO summit drew interest in the next day’s Yomiuri, as Iran was admitted to the group. Of particular note was Modi’s role, just ten days after his visit to the United States, boosting bilateral ties. Out of concern for deepening anti-US and Europe tone of the SCO, Modi, as host, avoided a face-to-face meeting, while also avoiding mention of the Ukraine invasion.

Ito Toru in the July 7 Yomiuri wrote about India’s dilemma extricating itself from dependence on Russia. Noting the difference from 1979, when India faced the war in Afghanistan with only the Soviet Union as an ally, it is now close to the United States, Europe, and Japan. The weight of Russian arms is still heavy, but India is diversifying. If Biden at first was dissatisfied with India’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he later decided to offer concrete assistance on supply chains, most vividly seen in General Electric’s joint venture to produce engines in India. It has averted price dangers by importing Russia oil and fertilizer and making money from exporting refined oil. Referring to India’s pragmatism, Ito stressed India’s great power consciousness, as it rises by 2030 to become the third economy in the world. Without criticizing Russia, India is positioning itself without having Soviet-era close ties as it joins the US-led Quad.

On July 22, Yomiuri discussed the ASEAN plus foreign ministers’ meeting, focusing on divisions over Myanmar. Malaysia and other hardliners on the issue fault Thailand, while China, which provides economic assistance to Myanmar, welcomes Thai diplomacy.  In contrast, the US is putting pressure on others to oppose Myanmar.  China has split ASEAN, as on territorial disputes and blocks agreement on rules to prevent disputes. Japan seeks ASEAN involvement in the Myanmar situation, and it should press for ASEAN cohesion, the editorial concludes.

A July 29 article in Yomiuri focused on India’s military cooperation with Southeast Asia, joining in resisting China’s border incursions and raising India’s profile in the Global South. In the 1990s the Indian policy was “Look East,” and Modi launched “Act East.” Many Southeast Asian states are wary of getting involved in the Sino-US confrontation. Earlier the EU and Japan were other choices, and now India is in the picture, expanding ties from economics to security.

A July 30 Yomiuri article on Sri Lanka treated it as the focus of Sino-Japanese competition on foreign assistance. Japan champions transparent and fair lending and is part of a group behind that, in which China is absent. Sri Lanka with its port under lease to China for 99 years is the epitome of the “debt trap.” Of Sri Lanka’s debt of $10.1 billion, $4.1 is owed to China, and $2.7 to Japan. The island is geopolitically important; 90% of oil tankers to Japan pass by it, while it is a key point in China’s “string of pearls.” The Maldives are similar, troubled by loss of tourist revenue due to the pandemic and boosting ties to Japan as they try to get free of dependence on China. Yet, Japan’s ODA dropped in half from its 1997 peak, and it cannot compete with China in lending power. India’s shadow in South Asia was not covered.

“Global South” and BRICS and South Pacific

On August 21, Yomiuri editorialized that Japan must expand its influence in the South Pacific, as China’s effort to make countries there dependent intensifies, threatening to follow the impact in Cambodia and Sri Lanka. Japan should join with the US and Australia building up infrastructure and training personnel in the ongoing struggle for hegemony.

On August 23, Yomiuri discussed the expansion of BRICS with 40 plus leaders from the “Global South” gathered together and China and Russia treating an expanded group as the axis of opposition to the US and Europe. The GDP balance will change to 29% BRICS and 44% G7, as the focus centers on bypassing the dollar in trade, according to the August 26 Yomiuri.

In the September Toa, Kitano Naohiro discussed China’s development assistance and the “Global South,” a term China has only recently begun to use, assuming that it too is a member despite its impending rise into the club of high-income countries. This term is deemed convenient to put pressure on the United States and others, using also the term “south-south cooperation.” As the debts of many developing countries have accumulated, China’s response is being tested. In the same issue, Aoyama Rumi examined China’s strategy for BRICS and the SCO and the “Global South.” She notes that from 1990 to 2022 the developed countries’ share of the global GDP fell from 80 to 60%, reflected in a shift in the power balance of international society. China’s foreign policy focus turned to “south-south cooperation,” reflected in the 20th Party Congress of 2022, as BRICS and the SCO became more important than the G20. Swing countries from the “Global South” are now being added to BRICS, an area in which responses to the Ukraine invasion have differed from the advanced countries in the West, focusing on trade and investment as well as food and energy security. Some of the thinking of the Cold War about non-alignment and a new world economic order has persisted. China’s narrative also shows continuity, as with the “three worlds” of the 1970s, with China again rallying opposition to Europe, the United States, and Japan, as it harshly criticizes Japan. Chinese media stress the clash of the G7 and “Global South.” It seeks to use organizations within the “Global South” such as ASEAN, but particularly BRICS for political as well as economic objectives (competing with India, and in Central Asia the SCO as well as the new China-Central Asian 5 summit. Since China joined the SCO, China has lost some control over its agenda and the addition of dialogue partners in the Middle East will have an effect too, but China still pursues use of its currency and reduced use of the dollar. The expansion of BRICS and the SCO is linked to China’s pursuit of leadership of the “Global South.

The EU and NATO

On July 3, Yomiuri covered a Japan-EU agreement on tightening cooperation on semi-conductors. The goal is to avoid uncertainty over supply chains. After Japan in 2022 passed an economic security law, which stressed the importance of security semi-conductor supplies for the domestic market, including research on the next generation computers and preparing personnel, it agreed in May 2023 with the US on a roadmap to deepen cooperation with the US. Now it is also strengthening cooperation with the EU.

On July 14, Yomiuri editorialized that the NATO summit demonstrates the resolve of the G7, including Japan, to stick by Ukraine. Russia is wrong to count on “support fatigue.” Having used NATO expansion as a pretext, it now faces real NATO expansion and a deteriorating security environment. The significance of this NATO gathering’s cohesion is considerable. That same day the paper commented on Biden’s speech, contrasting his statement that alliance relations, including NATO, are the cornerstone of US leadership in the world to Trump’s “American First” approach, which greatly impacted US relations with Europe.

On Japan-EU security cooperation Yomiuri editorialized on July 17 that it is focused on deterring China. The two sides have agreed on launching a strategic dialogue at the foreign minister level, dealing with such matters as maritime security and cyber. After in 2019 reaching an Economic Partnership Agreement, adding security ties is a big deal and includes deepening defense cooperation through NATO, which last fall joined Japan and the US in maritime exercises. All of this relates to shared alarm over China and agreement that Indo-Pacific and European security are inseparable. Yet, France opposed establishing a NATO office in Tokyo, not wanting to provoke China. With its long history of ODA to developing countries, Japan can serve as a bridge between them and Western countries.

The United Nations

A July 14 Yomiuri article explained that Japan’s shadow has dimmed at the United Nations. In the postwar era UN-centrism was a pillar of its diplomacy. It contributed about 10% of the budget, and it carried the banner of reform of the Security Council. People are asking again what Japan’s role should be after the Ukraine invasion. For more than four years after Japan applied for entry into the UN in 1952, the Soviet Union blocked it. When it gained entry, this was considered reentry into international society after more than two decades. In September 1957 Japan declared the three pillars of its foreign policy to be UN-centrism, cooperation with liberal countries, and maintenance of a position as a member of Asia. The Security Council grew more active after the Cold War, and Japan sent the SDF abroad as peacekeeping forces. As one of the G4 in 2005, it proposed reform of the Security Council, but the US and China opposed the reform, and a 2/3 vote was difficult to get. Of late China and Russia have rendered the Security Council helpless, vetoing resolutions on Syria and North Korea. The utility of the Security Council has been shaken in Japanese consciousness. Kishida in September 2022 spoke about the need for Security Council reform, but no concrete path forward is in sight.

Now Reading Country Report: Japan (September 2023)