Country Report: Japan (June 2020)

The spring of 2020 saw a downturn in Sino-Japanese relations, which were now embroiled in the pandemic war of words, with little else on the foreign policy radar. Some warnings about North Korea and Russia were heard, while wishful thinking about South Korea also appeared. Some raised the puzzle of why Abe’s poll numbers were falling even as Japan was controlling the pandemic comparatively well. Whereas 32 percent of Americans praise the US response to it, it was said only 5 percent of Japanese praise their country’s response. The Diamond Princess case created a negative first impression, which persisted despite a death rate comparable to New Zealand’s—hailed as a great success. One factor may have been pessimism about Japan’s economy that had begun earlier and a deepening sense that on all fronts Japanese foreign policy was being frustrated.

In Newsweek Japan on April 24, Japan’s response to COVID-19 was compared with those of Europe and the United States, indicating that cases have been fewer, but the danger Japan is facing for health and the economy is great. While some in Japan are tempted to tout Japan’s success as if there is a unique “Japan-style response”—in reality, there is a “Japan-style danger.” First, in health and the economy, Japan was already in a state of exhaustion. Labor shortages prevailed; an aging society meant the cost of treatment is greater; local hospitals were consolidated; the economy faced a downturn since the “bubble”; policy prioritized tourism; and the sense of crisis in Japan was of a different order than that of China, Europe, and the US. Second, Japan had warning but did not prepare adequately. Third, public distrust of authority is a problem, making social distancing difficult. From the Edo period, the culture separating the elite and the masses has left a legacy of distrust. The failure theme reappeared.

A Sankei article on April 23 stated that panic has arisen over globalism, the engine of economic development in the post-Cold War era. The EU had led in this process, but it is erecting borders. Liberal countries, beginning with Japan, are reconsidering their high economic dependence on authoritarian China. Special issues of Japan’s monthly journals in May are filled with dire warnings of a systematic economic crisis. An era has ended. China’s image has been damaged, although it is presenting itself as the world’s savior and seeking to expand its influence. Using technology to control the virus, it contrasts its system to failed results in democracies. Freedom must be sacrificed for safety, Chinese are insisting in an appeal to spread clashing values. Japan must show that it can control the virus, while also reckoning with its high economic dependence on China and on its tourists. It is dangerous to rely on one place; dispersal is necessary to Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Summarizing arguments in many journals, the article stresses the urgent need to rethink Japan’s risky relationship with China. This tone was replicated elsewhere as well.

Articles warned Abe not to proceed on two fronts before the pandemic got in the way. Many did not want him to host Xi Jinping in a state summit, conferring an undue honor on China’s leader as Xi’s policies grew more offensive. Even after the summit was postponed, such appeals did not stop in case a new date were set. There were calls too, such as by Hakamada Shigeki in Seiron on March 3, for Abe not to join Putin at the May victory parade, and later at the September one. The mood had turned more hostile to Abe’s “proactive” diplomacy with both countries.


Suzuki Mamoru on April 21 in Gendai Business warned that China and North Korea are taking advantage of the pandemic. With infections spreading on US aircraft carriers, vulnerabilities are growing. In April, Chinese ships became more active in the South China Sea and near Taiwan. The article emphasizes military behavior that challenges US and Japanese forces just as the US cases were rising and China was bringing the epidemic under control. Attributing new boldness to the cancellation of US-ROK joint military exercises, the article views North Korea as hiding its cases of the virus but also capable of severe control and poised to act provocatively. Blaming China for being the “enemy of humanity” for its virus role and citing Fox News charges that a Wuhan lab could have released the virus, the article argues that the US is placing responsibility on China and considering increasing military pressure on it and on North Korea. Both China and North Korea had better avoid further arousing the US. If North Korea provokes and the US reacts, there is a high danger of armed conflict between the US and China. With the G7 countries affected by the pandemic, China and North Korea may try to capitalize on this environment to alter the military balance in their favor.

On April 24, Gendai Business reported on the US response to the WHO, raising questions about corruption between China and Tedros, commenting on the story that a Wuhan lab was the source of the virus, and noting the suit by the state of Maryland seeking Chinese compensation. What should Japan do? Answers offered include increasing its self-sufficiency in supplies rather than depending on China, and being patient as the peak approaches during the May holiday period.

Led by Sankei the call to blame China for the pandemic and demand compensation resounded loudly in Japan by early May. On May 1, Yukan Fuji argued that patience is running out across the world, as media are reporting on China’s behavior. In turn, China has begun to press for praise for its response to the virus. Coverage suggests that some members of the Diet and some media are doing China’s bidding, refocusing criticisms on national leaders such as Abe without citing China’s responsibility. Japanese conservative forces protective of Abe and most critical of China have taken up the cause of shifting all blame to China. The coverage calls for Japan to keep pace with Western countries in both expressing indignation and decoupling.

Sankei Shimbun on May 3 listed countries in Europe turning to press China for compensation due to the pandemic. The US and Australia are being joined by the UK, Germany, and France. The infection rate was accelerated and expanded by China’s initial concealment. In turn, China is aggressively targeting these countries. The level of conflict has greatly intensified in these back-and-forth accusations, the article reports.

On May 8, Gendai Business reported on China’s handling of the pandemic, this time focusing on the virology lab in Wuhan as the source. It observes that the theory of leakage from the lab keeps smoldering because third parties are not admitted to inspect the lab. The conclusion is that China is hiding something. Details about the timeline of the outbreak add to the suspicions. The genome of the first case from as early as December 1 has not been shared. China must have been aware of person-to-person transmission at an earlier date than it proclaims, the article contends. In January, as many as 970,000 Chinese tourists arrived in Japan, spreading the virus. China had ulterior motives for not taking more aggressive measures to contain the virus before then. The article concludes that if China had announced to the world on January 13 that there was possibility of a pandemic, at least 250,000 lives, as of May 5, would have been spared.

Yukan Fuji on May 8 charged collusion between China and the WTO, conveying a conspiracy theory of the writer Kawazoe Keiko, which disputes that the Wuhan market was the source of the virus. Around March 25, China tightened censorship over publications on the pandemic, insisting on controlling science as well as propaganda. The article charges the Chinese government with concealing the epidemic in collaboration with the executive secretary of the WHO.

On May 10, Sankei discussed the China theme in the US elections, expressing concern about the price of internal fighting in the US, which interferes with countering China’s aims to transform the world order.  Trump should put aside reelection concerns and devote himself to solving the crisis. If a retreat on globalization is unavoidable, one must understand that putting one’s own country first does not conquer the spreading virus. As for China, it both supplies masks abroad an tightens military control of the South China Sea. If the US divide weakens the country, it will enable China to grab hegemony after the epidemic.

On May 11, Yomiuri reported on the negative impact of the growing Sino-US confrontation to combatting the pandemic and reviving the world economy. While charging that US efforts to blame China for being the source of the infection are hampering needed cooperation, it places greater responsibility on China. Yet, US comparisons of the virus to Pearl Harbor and use of war terminology are criticized for undermining efforts to overcome critical challenges.

On May 13, Yomiuri assessed the impact of the pandemic on BRI, arguing that there is a headwind. First, there is caution about methods that can turn debt relief into military bases. Second, there is concern about Chinese-style surveillance systems. Third, a movement, as in other developed countries, may seek to review supply chains that are overly dependent on China.

On May 14, JBpress warned that China is on the move and if it is not pushed back it may be able to steal the Senkaku Islands, referring to the May 8 aggression. It states that the Japanese people feel threatened, and the Japanese government should be ashamed. Japanese fishing boats operating in Japanese waters are being chased by Chinese coast guard vessels and prevented from fishing in a big infringement of Japan’s sovereignty. Despite this, Japan’s government stopped protesting, merely calling the Chinese embassy in Tokyo and the Chinese foreign ministry from Japan’s embassy in Beijing. This was the first incident of its kind. From May 1, China declared a no-fishing ban around the Senkakus, acting in accord with its claim of sovereignty. In the South China Sea, similar moves are being taken. If these moves in the East China Sea continue for a few years, international society may recognize the Senkakus and the East China Sea as under effective Chinese control. The article proceeds to appeal for further manifestations of Japanese sovereignty on the islands, such as installing radar, proceeding with urgency in defense of the safety of Japanese territory and Japanese citizens.

Wedge on May 14 discussed the limits of China’s “wolf warrior diplomacy” in the COVID-19 crisis. It explained that criticism of China has risen in international society. Beginning with the US, the image of China has worsened in various countries. In the midst of this, China has publicized its success in conquering the virus and used “mask diplomacy” to restore its image, while Xi has acted as world leader. However, there has been a backlash. The US refers to the “China virus” as part of a back-and-forth “propaganda war.” While thanking China for assistance, other states are driven by economic threats and also more distrustful. To restore its image China has turned to “wolf warrior” diplomacy. Along with controlling information to Chinese society, messages are sent to threaten other countries, deploying “sharp power.” Xi telephones with offers of assistance while requesting expressions of gratitude to China.

 The action films of 2015 and 2017, Wolf Warrior, praised extreme diplomacy, winning favor as trade tensions with the US grew, a response welcomed today. Mask diplomacy was used against the Netherlands over the Taiwan issue. In contrast, efforts are made to sway Japanese opinion, as in February, thanking Japan for assistance. Recently “wolf warrior diplomacy” has intensified, reflecting popular sentiment and the appointment of Zhao Lijian as foreign ministry spokesperson. Chinese diplomats have taken a harsher tone, it is reported, often accompanied by economic pressure with demands for expressions of gratitude, which has aroused a spreading backlash, as Trump strives to turn China into a scapegoat and use this for his reelection. China is in a frenzy to avoid isolation from international society. Thus, “wolf warrior” tactics are increasing. Whatever their impact at home, they are causing a backlash abroad. While calling this a test for China’s public diplomacy, the article fails to discuss the response in Japan or the backlash in the US to the cynical manipulation of blaming China under way in the Trump administration.

On May 15, JBpress found China taking advantage of the pandemic to raise tensions in the South China Sea, e.g., crashing a patrol boat into a Vietnamese fishing boat and sending an aircraft carrier there as the US is hobbled by the virus on one of its carriers. New announcements on an administrative area and a fishing ban in the sea are equally worrisome. Vietnam is deeply upset, and the Philippines and Malaysia are more distrustful of China. The article conveys the rumor that China bought up the world’s masks at the start of the outbreak, leading to shortages elsewhere, but it mainly warns of China’s assertions of sovereignty as an increasing source of distrust. Many do not prioritize the South China Sea at this time. Chinese praise expansionist emperors. For Japan, readers are told, the South China and East China seas are linked. On May 8, official vessels of China chased Japanese fishing boats near the Senkaku Islands, which shows that economics are not the priority. Chinese behavior is viewed as reminiscent of prewar Japan, which was unable to contain dangerous military moves. The same may happen in China, as Xi sees his extension in office linked to taking such action and relying on hardliners in the military. on May 17 observed that export orders are down despite resumption of production in China. Xi’s speech at the People’s Congress warned that unstable elements have been added to the world by the virus, and it is necessary to prepare for a worsening of the external environment to last a long time. One symbol are international demands for vast compensation for the crisis. Of course, China has sovereign immunity and can respond as it did in the case of the South China Sea. Whereas the US is blaming China, Chinese hardline brains are arguing that the US era is over, and from now on China will take its place. China is engaged in a broad propaganda war, warning of an anti-China counterwave, equating it to the late Qing Boxer intervention by 8 countries forcing vast, humiliating reparations. This time, it could be 80 countries.

In March/April issue of Gaiko, Takahara Akio says that the postponement of Xi Jinping’s visit to Japan should be taken as an opportunity to reconsider the fundamental foundation of the relationship and how it can contribute to the overall international order in Northeast Asia. Awakening to the long-term nature of Sino-US frictions, Chinese are split. The internationalist, reform faction is eager to use US pressure for economic reform, and the bigger nationalist, protectionist faction is protective of state enterprises. A tug-of-war continues, but in May 2019 the second group gained dominance. In the first phase Sino-US trade deal reached in December, the latter group was able to protect its interests. By late January Xi Jinping was feeling in great danger from defeat in the pandemic’s first round before being emboldened by victory over the virus in the second round. Economic damage is the focus of the uncertain third round, in which Xi is counting on his “strong leader” role.

As for relations with Japan, neither leader had prepared enough for the summit. The Chinese foreign ministry insists that a good mood is needed for the summit. That is complicated by Chinese ships sailing now near the Senkakus. Xi has dual goals of strengthening his authority and improving ties to Japan. Abe is avoiding the East China Sea issue and intends to raise such issues as Hong Kong and the Uyghurs directly at the right time. Frustration is mounting in Japan at Xi’s persistent actions. In the expectation the Xi would visit, Chinese propaganda gave Japan credit for sending masks. What should be done to improve ties now? Xi has recognized that Japanese public opinion is negative, blaming the Japanese side. He does not understand that improving ties depends on Xi’s actions. Looking at the fact that this is once-in-a-decade summit aimed at issuing a fifth political document, Takahara argues that Japan should not accept Chinese aims to normalize what are abnormal situations. It should, for example, seek clarity on how BRI and FOIP can be moved from competition to genuine coexistence. Indicative of pessimism in Japan about a summit that was postponed to the relief of many, this article offers no indication that China is considering the steps Japanese regard as essential to proceed. Given the subsequent Chinese moves toward Hong Kong, how could it be held?

The April issue of Toa depicted Japan as squeezed between the US and China, including Kawashima Shin’s assertion that engagement is dead, even if Trump loses the election. The change is comprehensive, blaming China even for using sharp power against democracy. Now Japan will be on the spot, beginning with the decoupling of technological infrastructure. It will be among many countries extremely concerned about maintaining ties to both powers. In the Trump era, Abe has shown more understanding of China on economics without budging from the US on security. Supply chains will be questioned, and Japan could be accused, as in the Cold War, of leaking vital military technology. The Cold War has not ended in Asia because of Taiwan and the 38th parallel. Japan-Taiwan FTA ties are held up by Taiwan’s import restrictions on products from the area hit by the 2011 nuclear disaster, but rethinking is needed. On Sino-Japanese ties, Kawashima sees a struggle since 2017 between two forces in the government: one that sees economic ties as necessary and is positive on BRI versus another that seeks to stick with the West. Public negativity is a barrier, and Xi’s visit was to address that. Since 2019, China’s sharp power and spying in Japan have increased. Japan could be a target, as Canada and Australia have been, of retaliatory punishment. At this historical juncture, the spillover from worsening Sino-US to Sino-Japanese relation is a concern.

An op-ed in Sankei on May 20 called on WHO to end China’s special influence. It insisted that Taiwan, which did a great job controlling the virus, must be admitted to the WHO. Contrasting Xi Jinping’s hearty praise of the organization with US criticisms of it for failing, the article lumps it with China in responding badly to the first period of the epidemic. Whereas Japan and others called for an independent investigation, Xi insisted that it be led by the WHO.

On May 26, reported on the Chinese foreign ministry’s response to Abe’s remarks that the coronavirus spread to the world from China, charging that this sullies China’s name and is contrary to the expectation that China and Japan will strive together to counter the virus. Zhao Lijian, who delivered this message is the same spokesperson who had raised the possibility that the US military had brought the virus to Wuhan.  

Daily Shincho on May 29 warned of Chinese moves related to the Senkaku Islands, pointing to incursions since the start of May. It discussed scenarios for China to occupy the islands, noting that even using hovercraft would be difficult given the rocky terrain. Helicopters would likely be needed. Prior to that, China would need to gain control over the surrounding seas and airspace in the face of naval and air self-defense forces and anti-ship missiles. Yet the Chinese forces are armed in a manner that would pose challenges. The article proceeds to compare the weapons each side could bring to bear, arguing that China would have a qualitative and quantitative advantage in aircraft. Grey zone fighting could be expected first, using China’s fishing fleet. If China were to occupy the islands, the article proceeds to detail Japan’s difficulties in retaking them. Mention is made also of the battlefield extending to the Sea of Japan and West Pacific as well as the East China Sea, preventing Japan from concentrating its forces near the Senkakus and keeping US forces dispersed as far away as the South China Sea. Chinese aircraft from Northeast China could cross over North Korea. Chinese forces could also try to occupy other Japanese islands. PLA drills and information gathering of recent indicate such thinking. The message of this article is that war with China is not inconceivable, and Japan’s situation is rather troubled.

Yukan Fuji on May 29 came out strongly against Xi visiting Japan. On May 25, Abe asserted that the coronavirus had spread to the world from China, prompting a furious reaction from Zhao Lijian (as if this smeared China’s name). It failed in its initial response, and there is no room for doubt; accordingly, the Japanese people should not welcome Xi as a “state guest.” This same Zhao in March tweeted that the virus may have been started by the US military bringing it to Wuhan, drawing a sharp retort from Trump. The Wall Street Journal asked which side Japan is taking in the Sino-US battle over the virus. Japan has tried to be extremely balanced between the two. Now as Britain, Germany, France, Australia, and others join the US in putting the onus on China and calls grow for China to pay for the damage, Japan has tried to keep its distance, but look at China’s response. In the US consciousness is shared by both parties that this is “started in China.” It is important that Abe has articulated the same, joining the US. Japanese business circles and Diet members have been reluctant to rouse Xi. Given human rights and the Senkaku issues, it is necessary to show a firmer posture to the people by stating that Xi would not be welcome for a state visit.

Hong Kong

On May 27, Asahi editorialized in opposition to China’s assault on Hong Kong’s rule of law through a national security law, which controls any speech critical of the system. This could take effect as early as August. This action puts in danger the existing legal system and threatens to criminalize peaceful demonstrations. Many Hong Kong residents oppose this law. Last year’s district elections were a sweeping victory for the democracy side, and Beijing is nervous about this fall’s elections. Xi Jinping seeks to raise his domestic appeal through a hard line on the Hong Kong question. While China responds to international criticism by insisting that this is strictly an internal matter, “one country, two systems” was an official contract to the world. Hong Kong’s prosperity was built on civil society, and strengthened CCP authoritarianism equals its denial. The new law strips away Hong Kong’s human rights.

On May 28, Tokyo Shimbun reported on a Japanese government statement on China’s new law on Hong Kong, expressing great concern. Japan called in the Chinese ambassador, but in order to avoid an impact on bilateral relations, it did not transmit a protest. This exposes a gap with the US, which has hardened its attitude to impose sanctions.

Toyo Keizai on May 22 reported that criticism of China is mounting as countries start on the path of economic recovery. States are distancing themselves from China. People are demanding reparations from China. Fighting back, China is insisting on its superiority. There is a danger China will be isolated in the world after the virus. Moves are cited in the US, Europe, and India. Only Japan, Italy, and Canada in the G7 are not criticizing China. The article says China cannot avoid responsibility, and if it does not respond sincerely, the world should isolate it. Yet, its aide is drawing thanks, such as from Putin, who personally went to the airport to express the view that Russia would not forget China’s assistance. With the EU not helping, some members have raised expectations for China. After the pandemic, international relations will change significantly. Given that China is first to control it, there may be talk of sacrificing freedom for control. The effort to isolate China will not stop at politics, it will extend to international decoupling, as the Sino-US trade war will intensify into an economic war. Japan must clearly decide what its position will be, at least determining its stance on the WHO.

A May 23 Asahi editorial criticized China’s defense budget and assertiveness, threatening the international security order. Critical of the large increase in the military budget announced the day before, the editorial warns that China’s goals are not defensive and pose a danger to Japan.

North Korea

With the combination of trade suspension with China and UN sanctions, a countdown has begun for the collapse of North Korea’s economy. This could have put a lot of stress on Kim Jong-un, who has already been under a great deal of pressure. Traffic has been suspended in China between Dalian and Dadong to facilitate the movement of PLA forces to the border. One article concludes by saying a new period of North Korea’s upheaval has begun. On April 24, Gendai Business asked if Kim Jong-un is in a vegetative state, noting that he failed on April 15 to attend the birthday celebration for his father. The arrival of a French doctor on a special flight around February 10 was a tipoff. Also strange was the closing of the country to foreigners in early March, including the order to reduce embassy personnel to a minimum, as the last flight out was on March 9 to Vladivostok. European countries closed their embassies. NGO personnel also left. Many then thought that this was a response to the virus. On April 13, after a congress of the political bureau of the Workers Party, only one message carried the authority of Kim Jong-un: the appointment of his sister Kim Yo-jong as his apparent successor, just a year after she had been dropped as an alternate member accountable for the Hanoi summit failure and then, sometime later, named first deputy party head. In his inner circle, Kim Jong-un could only put trust in his sister. The congress was delayed for two days, possibly to win support for her appointment. Kim Jong-un did not attend it, and there was no important statement. Five of the thirteen members other than Kim Jong-un were replaced.

On May 8, Gendai Business returned to the theme of Kim’s long absence as well as his return. The focus had turned to why many got the story wrong when Kim was out of sight. One factor was the high risk associated in people’s minds with North Korea and Kim. On April 20, Daily NK in South Korea broke the news on Kim’s health followed a day later by CNN, leading to a lot of noise from North Korean watchers. Daily NK had succeeded in prior scoops on North Korea. Kim had known risk factors, including rapid weight gain and heavy smoking. The article appears to try to justify the misinformation rather than drawing lessons about how to avoid a repetition.

South Korea

On May 13, Asahi editorialized about Japan-ROK relations in the pandemic, calling for collaboration in the face of the crisis. It noted that some Koreans are opposed to sending medical supplies to Japan and the Japanese government is cautious about requesting assistance from Seoul. There is no room for politicization in an epidemic. Moon seeks to lead the world in combating infectious diseases. Abe calls for establishing an ASEAN center for infectious diseases when the June meeting of ASEAN + 3 takes place. Both pledge new international contributions. Should they not start with bilateral dialogue? Given its electoral success, the Moon government should make a bold decision to change course on Japan, and Abe needs to immediately withdraw the trade restrictions he imposed, the article concludes.

A May 14 Mainichi editorial turned to Japan-ROK relations, citing an example of cooperation to bring a Korean sick child home via Tokyo with help from the Japanese embassy and stressing that in fighting the virus the two countries have commonalities. Unlike in the West, both do not have forced urban lockdowns and rely on popular consciousness for social distancing. Tired of self-restraint, limits were eased and quite a few people forgot about preventive measures, leading to outbreaks centered on nightclubs. Japan should consult South Korea’s experience with easing controls leading to a second wave. Yet alienation between the two governments is a barrier, and there is unease about security cooperation toward North Korea, while distrust lingers over the conscripted labor question, for which South Korea needs to take a forward-leaning position. Responses to the virus should be separate from politics, prioritized as critical to protecting the lives of people.

On May 30, Yukan Fuji commented on the impact of the new Sino-US cold war on South Korea, suggesting that Moon Jae-in wanted to lean toward China, while covering a May 28 foreign policy meeting in the face of US and Chinese demands—the latter for support of the new law on Hong Kong. South Korea has pursued a balancing act, accepting THAAD and promising the “three nos.” Yet, as on the Hong Kong issue and the pandemic spread, it has tried to duck and has grown uneasy. Korean papers reported Abe’s May 25 news conference as Abe siding with the US and asked how will Moon respond. One paper said that China since THAAD has not relaxed pressure at all. A professor is quoted as saying US-ROK relations are fragile, the alliance has been weakened, and it is possible US forces will withdraw, casting doubt on the US choice.


On January 20 in The Page, Kuroi Buntaro traced the 30-year history of Russian thinking about the islands demanded by Japan, drawing the conclusion that at no point did Russian leaders contemplate the transfer of even one island. He argues that Japan was consistently misled by its false understanding of Russia’s reasoning. Russia has only offered flimsy excuses for what it never intended to do anyways, confident that there was no prospect Japan would proceed on such matters as breaking its alliance with the United States. This is a damning account of news stories and pronouncements by leaders continuously misjudging the other side’s intentions.

In an Asahi editorial on May 6, Putin’s 20 years in office (on May 7) were assessed, asking for how long he could proceed with the privatization of power. While the editorial does not deny Putin’s accomplishment of reestablishing order and moving Russia away from the chaos of the 1990s, at some point he confused stabilization of the country and that of his own position. He had a responsibility to forge a fair and transparent competition for the people to choose his successor. The proposed constitutional reform lacks a long-term outlook, as does Putin’s foreign policy. Annexation of Crimea complicated ties to Europe, the US, and neighboring states. Now Russians are taking a harder look at Putin in light of the constitutional revision votes being postponed over the pandemic and the collapse in oil prices. Russia cannot escape an economic system based on natural resources. Putin should reflect on how he will be judged by history.

On May 11, Sankei discussed the “history war” with Russia. Noting that Russia had to call off the victory ceremony on May, it warned that the plan has shifted to commemorate September 3 for the first time as the victory day over Japan. Japan must not overlook this plan since it seeks to justify the seizure of the “Northern Territories” as the result of WWII. While Abe may have intended to attend the victory event against Germany, he should not join Putin in September. Putin has attacked the European Parliament for its historical judgment on the Soviet occupation from the end of the war, taking the same attitude toward Asia as toward Europe on the rights of the “victorious country.” Moreover, Putin has joined in celebrating September 3 with China as if they were fighting together; and may be intensifying the historical warfare against Japan to compensate for his troubles with the pandemic and falling oil prices.

On May 11, Sankei carried on op-ed on Russia’s victory celebration, calling it an attack in the history war against Japan, as the May 9 parade has been moved to September 3. Abe had been invited to the May 9 commemoration of victory over Germany, and it is even more important that he not attend the one in September. Russia’s historical consciousness is causing a backlash in various countries, seen in the September EU parliament resolution on the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of WWII, which criticized two totalitarian systems and the postwar Soviet control over Eastern Europe and aroused a furious response from Putin. Russia’s attitude toward Asia is no different. In 2010 Russia made September 2 a day of commemoration too. After it entered the war against Japan on August 9 and broke the neutrality treaty, it attacked Japan after Japan had surrendered, as if it were a “war of liberation.” Now celebrating with China in September, Putin needs to boost his popularity, and in order to avoid returning the Northern Territories, we need to be on guard as he intensifies attacks against Japan in the history war.

On May 23, Tokyo Shimbun discussed the plan for joint economic development on the disputed islands, warning that on May 23 it became clear that the Russian side has proposed shelving the issue of whose laws should apply. This would leave Russian law in charge. Now a reply from the
Japanese side is awaited. If a compromise on law had been reached, it would have built trust.

Tokyo Shimbun on May 23 discussed joint economic development with Russia. It asserted that Russia has changed its position from emphasizing its ownership of the “Northern Territories” to proposing that administrative sovereignty be set aside. This is a big concession, opening the door to joint economic development and shifting the focus to how Japan will respond. There is a possibility that trust can be forged if a compromise can be reached putting sovereignty aside.

On May 29, Daily Shincho reported on Russian spying through Softbank, noting that a former employee is a suspect in leaking firm secrets. A Russian trading company employee had been put under document inspection but refused and returned in February to Russia. The two had been socializing together for a few years. On Facebook, the Russian embassy denied the charges, saying that Japan was in league with Europe and the US in concocting spy stories about Russia. Despite the end of the Cold War, Russian spying activity has not diminished in Japan, readers are told, calling the incident just the tip of an iceberg. Putin was enamored of spying from his youth, after seeing a movie of Sorge, who from 1933-41 spied in Japan. A number of spying cases since the Cold War are mentioned. In this way, Russia today is linked to the Soviet Union as a threat.

On May 29, saw Abe choosing the G7 over Russia, saying that he was leaning against going to the rescheduled victory over Germany celebration on June 24. He judged that the US G7 takes priority. Moreover, the epidemic in Russia is not contained. Abe had planned on going to Russia on May 9, exploring a breakthrough in the stalled peace treaty talks.