Country Report: Japan (August 2020)

Japanese were asking in the late spring and early summer what the collapse of Sino-US ties means for their country and for bilateral relations with both parties. Would Abe’s pursuit of Xi Jinping, awaiting a delayed state visit by the Chinese leader, harm ties to the US? Would a lack of outrage about China’s policies, including the new security law for Hong Kong, leave Japan out of sync with the international community? Criticism of Abe was mounting, over his deference to China as well as other policies, domestic and foreign, that looked worse in the pandemic period. Sino-Indian relations, the Korean Peninsula, and Russia were viewed in this geopolitical context.

Japan-US relations

On June 2 a Sankei op-ed on the postponement of the G7 called for strengthening rather than expanding it. Citing Trump’s remarks about the G7 being a “very outdated group of countries” and appealing for a G11 with focus on the China question, it found Trump’s call strange. While one can understand the thinking about forging a cordon around China, it is difficult to see how this will go forward. The world agenda first needs G7 solidarity before rushing into expansion. If the summit had been held in late June, some of the leaders were negative about attending. It is appropriate to be opposed to China’s militarization of the South China Sea and push for digital hegemony, but adding Russia and South Korea, which prize their ties to China is not the answer. One annexed Crimea, and the other ignores international law in relations with Japan and cozies up to North Korea. Temporary attendance is one thing, but a new framework would be chaotic. Abe should urge Trump to prioritize making the G7 more cohesive, the newspaper advises.

Nikkei Business on July 6 found the John Bolton book unprecedented in its behind-the-scenes look at Japan-US relations. Bolton had tremendous interest and trust in Japan. What a contrast to Susan Rice’s memoir, which barely mentioned Japan and never referred to Abe or another prime minister. Bolton mentions Abe 157 times and Yachi 21 times. Consultations on North Korea, Iran, and China were frequent, vindicating Japan’s establishment in 2013 of an NSC. Whenever Bolton spoke with Korean officials on North Korea, Yachi was in the loop. Bolton called Moon Jae-in’s view of North Korea schizophrenic. He saw the Japan-US consultations on China as the right way to conduct a strategic dialogue with a close ally. Yet he saw Japan as schizophrenic on North Korea and Iran, condemning one not the other. Bolton had two misfortunes: an ideologue cannot manage diplomacy, and Donald Trump was president.

Gendai Business on July 11 reported on the Japanese response to the April 10 anonymous article called the “YA paper” in American Conservative Diplomacy by what is assumed to be
a foreign ministry official. A debate has ensued with relevance to the views of the impending US elections. If Trump is not praised, neither is Obama. The paper asserts that Trump’s diplomacy (“a confrontational China strategy”) is better than Obama’s because the latter was too soft on China and kept expecting China to change. Revealed is pride that the February 2017 “Japan-US summit declaration” was equally drafted by both sides and that in three ways Japan initiated Trump’s Asia policy: pressure on North Korea, the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy, and emphasis on Southeast Asia. The follow-up asked: if Trump is truly hard line to China or just pursuing a reelection strategy; whether Obama switched to deterrence in his second term and, given the US consensus, will Biden not follow this path; should Japan not evaluate US policy strictly for its China focus; and is the overall tendency from Trump to Obama not isolationist? Noted was polling that shows Japanese placing Obama first among US presidents (54%) and viewing Trump’s reelection as bad for Japan (57%). While one commentator worried about Susan Rice (too soft on China) gaining a top position, stress was put on Japan not being seen as leaning to Republicans over Democrats. With a possible change of administration in sight in the US, such questions arise.

Sino-US relations

The May-June issue of Kaigai Jijo examined how the pandemic is exacerbating the Sino-US clash. It noted the Wuhan origins of the virus and concentrated on China’s efforts to shift the blame to the US, not as an aberration but as the overall direction of the foreign ministry. In the public relations war that ensued, China turned away from “healthy Silk Road” diplomacy. The article demands that Xi Jinping provide an explanation for why the disease was permitted to spread, and it insists that the world cannot accept anything less.

The June issue of Toa assessed Chinese efforts to counter the narrative that China spread the risk of COVID-19. The supply of masks and test kits to fight the pandemic is not just a sign of goodwill. It is also connected to deflecting blame for the spread of the virus as well as wolf warrior diplomacy. The article reports on repeated instances of Chinese spokespersons attacking democracies and their media which have criticized China. Considerable detail is provided on the back and forth during April and May, showcasing assertive Chinese responses. For Japan stress is put on aggressive maritime activities by the Senkaku Islands as well as the invectives exchanged over them.
Mainichi Shimbun on June 2 assessed US policy toward China, now marked by retraction of favored treatment for Hong Kong due to the new PRC law and Trump’s charge that the WHO is fully under China’s control and announcement of US withdrawal from it. Trump also aims to control leakage of industrial secrets by banning Chinese graduate students. The article asked if it is wise to take these countermeasures. Stabilization of the situation in Hong Kong benefits the world, and China should be urged to limit how it applies the national security law. The US should reconsider its withdrawal from the WHO for international cohesion in fighting a common threat to humanity. If Trump criticizes China without much international coordination, he loses the trust of allied countries. It will be difficult to reach agreement at the G7 on a framework to contain China. Trump needs Japan and Europe in facing China. Going it alone will not meet with their understanding, warns the newspaper’s editorial. Asahi that same day gave a similar argument. In its editorial, it charged that US diplomacy is running wild, leaving the WHO, announcing a change in the G7 structure, intent on using it to contain China as a tactic for the November elections. International society should look at US disruptions along with China’s absolutism with a critical eye. The shift on Hong Kong will make life difficult for firms and citizens in Hong Kong, whose values Trump does not understand. Why does Trump think that adding Russia to the G7 would be in accord with forging a new international order?

On July 15 Newsweek Japan covered Pompeo’s speech about China’s maritime expansion in the South China Sea, illustrating the Trump administration’s new approach to China’s aggression in the South China Sea as well as another vigorous pushback. The Pompeo statement clarifies that US policy will be based on the 2016 arbitration court ruling, acknowledging a position less visible in the Obama administration. Neighboring Southeast Asian countries have recently voiced a call for stronger U.S countermeasures against China’s hegemonic actions in the South China Sea, the article explains. Scarborough Reef has been defined as within the scope of the Philippine Defense Treaty and may become a source of military conflict. Even if Trump’s motive may be political, the article indicates no reason for Japan to object to this tougher US approach.

Sino-Japanese relations

In the July Bungei Shunju Funabashi Yoichi wrote about the collapse of the free and open postwar international order as China and Russia launch an information war in cyberspace. With the pandemic the US-led alliance system has been shaken, and the Pentagon budget is now in doubt. However, the battle has barely begun, raising the prospect of three distinct scenarios: 1) after two years a V-shaped recovery takes place; 2) major countries fall into a second or third wave of the virus, delaying recovery to 4-5 years; and 3) in the worst-case scenarios developing countries such as India and African states lose control, leading to a recovery in 7-8 years. The rise and fall of countries with winners and losers depend on which scenario ensues. The US has the most cases, and China’s strengths and weaknesses are both exposed, although as the source of the pandemic its weaknesses stand out. Globalization and democracy are both set back by the closing down of countries and economic downturn. The first global empire of the Mongols collapsed in the fourteenth-century black plaque. Populism is rising against city elites—even against China and Asians. The dawn of a new cold war is visible, as China claims victory, sees democracies as losing, and further arouses nationalism. It lacks the qualities to lead the international order, driven by cynical opportunism. The US also has lost its standing and is torn apart. As economic ties become weapons, the US and Japan depend on imports to fight the pandemic. Yet, this exposes them in ways they are finally recognizing.

Toyo Keizai on June 20 considered diplomacy with China the most complex for Japan and that the Hong Kong issue now encapsulates the essence of the challenge. Posing a fundamental problem that could alter the relationship, the new Hong Kong law requires a new coordinated diplomatic strategy with the international community, readers are told. The G7 foreign ministers’ statement was seen as a wake-up call, putting Japan on the spot. If it prefers an ambiguous response, it risks standing in the international community and being taken for granted in China. Yet, readers are told, diplomacy requires pragmatism—the only way to realize national interests. In this economic journal business interests are weighed heavily.

Sankei on June 20 argued that even as Abe calls for industries to disengage from China, large companies during the pandemic are growing more tethered to China. Even as Abe calls for the industrial sector to decouple from China, the main Japanese firms are boosting investments in China. During the pandemic, Abe saw China cutting the supply chain, and he called for moving production back to Japan or to third countries, in April budgeting for that purpose. Toyota at the end of February made a big additional investment in Tianjin for electric and hybrid vehicles. This is counter to the Western US-centered wave to reduce dependency on China. Sankei asked Abe to make stronger demands of Keidanren and the main base of the financial sector.

Evening Fuji warned on June 29 of the intensifying military threat from Chinese naval vessels and the weakness of Japan’s response. It was asserted that the pandemic is giving China the confidence to be more aggressive. This message was consistent with other appeals in Japan to do more, while criticizing the indifference of many politicians and portions of the Japanese media.

Jiji Press reported on July 7 of a split in the LDP over whether to cancel Xi Jinping’s postponed state visit over developments in Hong Kong. A proposed party resolution on the national security law was derailed when Secretary-General Nikai Toshihiro warned that it would set back relations to nothing after hard work over the years. Mainichi reported that day a resolution was passed, but it had been watered down as Kishida Fumio arbitrated between the hardliners on China and Nikai. This was seen as a struggle for the direction of the LDP after Abe. Wording was changed from “demand a stop” to “Japan is expressing the concern from international society.” This is not expressed as the will of the LDP as a whole but of the foreign affairs investigation committee, and an insert was added regarding looking forward to a new era of friendly relations. Over a few days the opposition was fierce until the Nikai faction succeeded in altering the statement. On July 3 Mainichi reported on the escalating tensions in this vitriolic split in the LDP ranks. July 8 Yukan Fuji assessed that this sent the wrong message to China, whose ships are continuously pressing on the Senkaku Islands, which spread the Coronavirus to the world, which is locked in a sharper confrontation with the US, and which is expanding hegemonically in the East and South China seas. It was asked how will Japan be perceived given LDP weakness. In Nikai, one sees the influence of financial circles oblivious to international conditions. As the US strengthens sanctions against China, Japan is swayed by “pro-China” pursuit of China’s market. On July 6 Kyodo reported that Japan had been approached to participate in a joint statement with the US, the UK, and others, but to their disappointment, it refused in a major split.

On July 6-12 in Japan In-depth Miyake Kunihiko reviewed Japanese newspapers’ responses to the Chinese national security maintenance law for Hong Kong. There is similarity in criticizing the assault on Hong Kong’s freedom and autonomy, but Asahi omits how Japan needs to respond to China, and Yomiuri is no better in specifying next steps. Tokyo Shimbun is deemed more consistent in its call to withdraw the bill, Miyake says. Nikkei does not even go so far as to say “oppose” or “unacceptable,” as if Japan needs to keep in mind Hong Kong’s economic benefits. Mainichi puts the concern crisply, but only Sankei demands that Abe call for a withdrawal and take the issue to the G7 planned for the US in the next month.

On July 14 Yukan Fuji covered Chinese ships invading the waters around the Senkakus the previous day, for the 91st straight day—a new record. Instead of blaming China for the initial response to the virus and the law for Hong Kong, Japan should respond to the expansion of military hegemony with videos of Chinese vessels tacking a Japanese fishing boat and joint exercises of SDF and US forces by the islands. When there is a danger of a Chinese landing on the islands, Japanese media except for Fuji TV appear indifferent to this bullying and “wolf warrior diplomacy.”  Now is the time to show the bonds of the Japan-US alliance, readers are told. There is a danger that the Senkaku Islands will fall out of the target area defined by the Japan-US Security Treaty as "under the administration of Japan."

On July 14 TBS News reported on the response of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the defense white paper just released by Japan, saying it is full of prejudice and misinformation and calling it a “black document.”  The white paper expressed alarm at China’s dissemination of false information about the pandemic and intention to forge an international order favorable to itself. China responded by warning Japan to stop fanning tensions. Mainichi that day reported on China’s response as well, saying “This year marks the 75th anniversary of China’s victory in the anti-Japanese war, and Japan should sincerely fulfill its promise to pave the way for peaceful development by leaning on history,” adding that “Japan should go to China to build constructive security relations and play an active role in protecting regional peace and stability.” On July 15 Yomiuri editorialized about the white paper upping Japan’s ability to meet a growing threat. The report explained why Aegis Ashore was dropped in June, referring to the cost as the price had nearly tripled from 2017. The editorial left no doubt about support for Japan’s tougher responses. 

JBpress on July 23 accused Japanese politicians of selling out to Xi Jinping with flattery. The article reviews the good that Japan has done for China. Now Japan is waiting for a state visit from Xi, which after his policy on Hong Kong could send a signal of weakness as happened when the Emperor went to China after the Tiananmen incident. Xi has disregarded his promises to the international community. While the world reels from the pandemic, China aggressively pursues its ambitions, including intruding near the Senkaku Islands on more consecutive days. Japan is showing little interest, while the US, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and some Southeast Asian states are resisting China’s domination. Why? It is due to a civilization of not offending your opponent and fear of losing the Chinese market. Hit by the US trade war, China is seeking a breakthrough with Japan. In this article, the appeal is to refuse to go ahead with Xi’s visit and to join in a hardline response.

Gendai Business on July 24 warned that after 100 days of invasion of the Senkaku waters the next step may be the capture of a Japanese fishing boat. Article 5 of the Japan-US security treaty says that the US will jointly act on an armed attack on a territory administered by Japan, but if China shows that this is not the case, maybe the US will not act. The article complains of Japanese newspapers keeping quiet while China presses. It welcomes the new US assertiveness, but it warns that if Japan is passive, China will take action in the East China Sea, not the South.

In Japan In-depth on July 26 a CSIS report argues that Abe’s failure to take timely action on COVID-19 was due to Chinese influence and the desire to smooth the way for Xi Jinping’s expected state visit to Japan. Entry from Wuhan was permitted until February 1 and other origins were still allowed even after the US had closed all entry from China. When China made the virus out to be no big deal, Abe listened, eager for a summit visit.                                                                               

Hong Kong

On June 7 Kyodo reported that Japan refused to join the US, the UK, and others in a strong joint statement criticizing China for a new law restricting Hong Kong. It is hoping to improve relation with China even as it disappoints the US. Seeking Xi Jinping’s visit to Japan after its postponement, Japan, it is feared, is opening a rift with Europe and the US. China’s new law on Hong Kong, one reads, poses a big question that could change Sino-Japanese relations. Japan must resolve its uncertainty in facing China and join international society. In the half century since normalization, in Japan, there was the high tide of a mood of friendship, the sense that despite problems in the 1980s Japan’s much bigger economy could be used to pressure China at a time China’s military force was lacking. Japan could be generous in dealing with bilateral issues as textbooks, Yasukuni Shrine visits, and China’s isolation after June 4, 1989. Now China’s situation is completely different and its leadership’s priorities and ideology have massively transformed. Japan’s response to China’s military moves in 1995-96 saw the start of a shift, seen in hosting Lee Teng-hui for medical care in 2001. Japan cannot anticipate progress in talks. With the US and Europe reacting on Hong Kong and the Uighurs, Japan must join in defending the great principles of freedom and human rights. It is vague, losing a sense of belonging to international society, as was the case for the TPP and the Indo-Pacific strategy. 

On June 12 Yomiuri editorialized against China’s treatment of Hong Kong in defiance of its international promises. It has made the residents feel helpless instead of abiding by its promises. Trump’s administration has warned of the withdrawal of preferential treatment, which hit both the Chinese and Hong Kong economies, although European countries are vocal in their concern about the negative impact of US sanctions. Both the US and China should exercise restraint and restore the earlier framework. Abe in facing a joint statement by the G7 of concern about China’s moves should take a leading role, approving a message in support of the values of freedom and the rule of law.

On July 1 Japanese papers editorialized against China’s new security law for Hong Kong. In Yomiuri stress was put on China breaking its international promise. This cannot be accepted. The law leaves what could be considered a crime vague. Now democrats in Hong Kong are pleading with NGOs in Europe and the US for support. The law will further lower international trust in China. Suga has expressed his regrets and indicated that Japan would respond together with related countries. The editorial calls on the government to shift to a strong posture against China in unison with Europe and the US. The position of Hong Kong’s financial and trade centers is in danger, and the US is sanctioning its preferential treatment. Xi should reconsider is the message.

Sino-Indian relations

A June 26 Asahi editorial noted that the Sino-Indian border has heated up again, raising a grave world threat. It calls for both states to exercise utmost self-restraint. Mention is made of China’s challenging actions to its neighbors in the South and East China seas and India’s 2019 border strife with Pakistan and end of autonomy in Kashmir as both states arouse nationalism. Dialogue is now needed to avoid an accidental military conflict. Japan is appealing to India to join the FOIP, but the aim is not simply to contain China, and it is difficult to get India fully on board. To strengthen the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific Japan should stress universal values and strive to reduce tensions with both countries. The editorial is careful not to blame China.

On July 14 Gendai Business asked if “wolf warriors” had gone too far in arousing a sleeping giant elephant, referring to the June 15 battle in Galwan Valley and noting that anti-China sentiment is on the rise in India, as in Canada and Australia, which have been turned into enemies by hardline policies. On July 3 in Ladakh Modi said, "History has witnessed the defeat and retreat of expansionist forces, and the whole world opposes cheating," implicitly criticizing China. So far, the article explains, China has used BRI to silence the world except the US; however its “corrupting power” has been weakened by the pandemic, which has led to a blockade of borders and exposed “wolf warrior” diplomacy, as has the Hong Kong national security law. Modi is getting tough too, designating TikTok and all apps from China as harmful and prohibiting Chinese companies from participating in Indian road construction in an atmosphere of “China exclusion.” Xi has presented two birthday presents: on Modi’s 64th birthday on September 17, 2014, he landed in Modi’s hometown Ahmedabad, but the event was spoiled by an attack on Indian forces in Kashmir by Chinese armed forces. Now on Xi’s 67th birthday Xi has launched an attack as well. The article ends, “The battle for hegemony in 21st century Asia between China and India began on June 15, 2020.”

The Korean Peninsula

An article in the June Toa evaluated the results of the April National Assembly elections in South Korea. It notes that many South Korean sources conclude that even without the boost of successfully containing the pandemic the progressives would have emerged victorious. Four consecutive losses by the conservatives since 2016 indicate that public consciousness has changed. Welfare trumps security, which is associated with conservatives. Peace has come to replace unification. Also in that issue was an article on China’s diplomatic offensive in the Sino-US struggle for hegemony in the post-pandemic era. In 2018 the tariff war began, but now we are heading toward a “new cold war” in diplomacy and security. Although Trump and Xi Jinping had spoken by phone of cooperation, China has accelerated its confrontational moves: advancing in the East and South China seas; striving to persuade international opinion through “mask diplomacy”; squeezing Taiwan’s international space; and spreading an image of the superiority of the CCP’s system of control. The focus is kept on China’s challenges, not Trump’s failings.

Yomiuri on June 8 reported on a late May joint survey with Hankuk Ilbo, showing that 84% of Japanese consider ROK-Japanese relations bad—just below the lowest post-1995 figures of 87 and 85% in 2014 and 2015. Yet the figure for Koreans judging this 91%, a record beyond the 2015 level of 89%. On June 11 Yomiuri editorialized on the widening mutual distrust between Japan and South Korea, urging that Japan keep the spillover to the minimum and continue cooperation in essential arenas. Moon Jae-in is blamed for showing no interest in resolving matters realistically after the court ruling on forced labor. Korean opinion has hardened in response to the export restrictions imposed by Japan—claimed to be a violation of WTO rules, while Japan faults the court verdict as a violation of international law. Now that Moon is more popular Japan cannot expect rethinking of his hardline position. The two nations are similar in viewing China as untrustworthy (about 80 percent) but differ on North Korea’s military threat (79% in Japan vs. 63% in South Korea). For regional stability, needed are US-centered linkages.

On June 11 a Yomiuri editorial cited the new joint public opinion poll indicating that distrust toward Moon Jae-in has grown. Japan should continue cooperation in areas where that is necessary and keep to a minimum what will have a bad influence. On the Japanese side, 84% find relations bad, and on the Korean side the figure is 91%—the worst figure since polls were started in 1995. Moon bears large responsibility, the paper argues. After the court verdict on compensation for forced labor, he has yet to indicate a realistic possibility to resolve the matter. Japan’s position is that the issue was settled in 1965, and the court judgment is a violation of international law, to which 79% of Japanese agree but 81% of Koreans find unacceptable. For Japanese companies to be forced to pay is intolerable, and the Korean government will be deemed responsible. Moon’s popularity in Korea has risen with the response to the virus, and his administration has more confidence after a big electoral success. One cannot expect much rethinking of the hard line toward Japan. It is important that conflict not extend to security and other essential areas.  Respondents on both sides consider North Korea a threat (Japan 79%, Korea 63%) and cannot trust China (about 80%). For the sake of Northeast Asian stability, both should keep linking up with the United States at the center.

On June 18 Mainichi asked why Japanese opinion of South Korea is at an all-time low while Korean opinion is at a high. Looking only at the annual Genron NPO survey begun in 2013, it rated the favorability of South Korea to Japan at 20 percent and 32 percent vice versa. For Japanese, politics is in the forefront, leading to fluctuating results year-by-year. For Koreans, however, the trend line has been upwards, disregarding politics from 12 to 32 percent. One reason is the experience of visiting Japan. Those who have are 30 percent more positive in their attitude. The tourist boom began in 2013, jumping from 2 to 7.5 million—that amounts to one in seven Koreans, assuming one trip per person. Japanese praise the availability in Korea of their own food and culture and the popularity of Korean dramas and music. Koreans praise the standards of living in Japan and the sincerity of the people. Japanese fault Korean criticisms on history and Koreans also raise history and the territorial issue. On culture, there is mutual respect. While both sides are more conscious that bilateral ties are bad, Koreans are more likely to view them as important (84 versus 51 percent) and to be less pessimistic about their future. On why these ties are important, Japanese cite security and Koreans more often mention economic reasons.

A Sankei op-ed on June 11 focused on North Korea severing ties with South Korea, arguing that Moon Jae-in should take note and that this is proof of the fragility of the North Korean system. Given the sanction and the pandemic, there is spreading unease among the people, who could be affected by criticisms of the system in leaflets. Japan’s government should prepare for the collapse of the system, readers are told and moves to save the abductees. Problematic is how Moon Jae-in is calling for action against the refugees releasing the leaflets. This is inconsistent with the path of a liberal country. On June 12 Asahi editorialized about the Korean Peninsula after the North cut off ties to the South, arguing that behind the hard-line other intentions exist. Blocked in every direction, the North is closing itself off. Unable to get sanctions lifted and watching as countries lose interest in it, the North is lashing out against the South, as usual. Of interest now is how the South will respond. The Moon administration is amenable to controlling the leaflets, clamping down on freedom of expression. Moon, whogives priority to reconciliation with the North, has 2 years left in office and may concentrate on peninsular stability over liberal principles. He should not seek momentary success in place of a policy for North-South relation looking to the next generation.


Jiji reported on June 13 on Putin’s speech the day before proclaiming that the “Northern Territories” as well as Crimea are Russian territory despite a phone call between the foreign ministers on May 28 that working-level aiming for a peace treaty and joint economic development on the islands would resume.        

In Sankei on July 8 Hakamada Shigeki assessed Putin’s success in constitutional revision. Of special relevance to Japan is the prohibition on ceding territory without preventing border demarcation work. Hakamada asks which applies to the dispute with Japan. Sakhalin oblast insists on the former and has built a memorial on Kunashiri in recognition of the revised constitution. In 1993, 2001, and 2003 Russia acknowledged the latter. Noting later claims to the contrary, Hakamada leaves the Russian position inconclusive without signs of optimism. Yomiuri on July 4 had reported on Sakhalin’s monument aimed at putting an end to the land dispute, which was unveiled on July 2. On June 13 the paper had noted Putin’s statement on the 12th that the islands as well as Crimea are Russia’s are homes within Russia’s family. On July 4 Nikkei found that Putin strongly indicated that the ban applies to the Northern Territories.

On July 11 Wedge Report noted that Japan from 2018 has shifted to the return of two islands, but Russia’s attitude proved to be insincere, as seen in the change of atmosphere in a January 2019 Moscow meeting of foreign ministers, when Lavrov stated that the Southern Kuriles are Russian territory as a result of WWII, which was followed by insistence that if Japan did not recognize this, negotiations could not advance. Abe soon met with Putin and grew pessimistic. At the 2019 EEF summit Putin showed a video of a marine processing plant on Isetan—another blow. If in the spring of 2020 Japanese media found hope in the border demarcation exception, later one heard that this could apply to Estonia and Georgia, not Japan. Meanwhile, Abe has made clear that he is still pursuing two islands, while Japan still sees no room to debate whether all four of the islands are inherently Japanese and that Russia illegally occupied them after the surrender of Japan. One can understand Abe’s realistic approach for the return of two islands, but no easy compromise can be made, given that sovereignty is the foundation of a country. Sending the wrong message to Russia could have a bad influence on the Senkaku and Takeshima questions. It is time to return to advocacy of the return of four islands. The upshot of the reporting is that it is now harder to secure the return of islands, a goal Abe had hoped to achieve while in office.

On July 14 JBpress asked if Japan’s mass media are pro-Russia, referring to coverage of Russia’s constitutional reform election in late June and the start of July. No media acknowledged that this vote was not really a reform of the 1993 “Yeltsin” constitution with no serious change in the state system. The original date for the national referendum was April 22, Lenin’s 150th birthday. The result would be to enable Putin to hold the presidency to age 84—in other words, a lifetime, approval of which was announced on July 4, ensuring that Putin will not be seen as a lame duck. The media in Europe and the US, including Japan, treated this as constitutional reform with Putin realizing his goal. Rather, it was more a farce, which was not covered correctly.   

On July 24 Kyodo reported on the July 23 Russian Foreign Ministry criticism of Japan’s defense white paper and rejection of the notion that Russia is occupying Japanese territory. It was also critical of Japan’s lack of transparency on its military preparations and plan for constitutional reform. On July 25 Asahi noted that Russia followed up its constitutional vote with a law punishing radical acts that infringe on territorial integrity. Now negotiations on the Northern Territories will be regarded as illegal. A provision that border demarcation is an exception is negated for Russo-Japanese talks, according to this decision. Although the law was more aimed at preventing talks on Crimea, the article asserts that Russians see this as the end of the talks.