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Abe Government Export Restrictions Send South Korea Relations into Tailspin

SNA (Tokyo) — The following stories were reported in the second half of June 2019 by the Shingetsu News Agency.

Rolling Coverage: South Korea Export Restrictions

—Abe government preparing stealth sanctions against South Korea, angry that Seoul won’t allow it to whitewash its war crimes of the past. Restrictions to be imposed on Japan’s export of high-tech materials used in smartphones and computer chips.

—South Korea-Japan relations expected to worsen after Japan announced retaliatory economic measures against exports to Korea, particularly in the semiconductor industry. Seoul summoned the Japanese ambassador to protest, and plans to complain to the WTO.

—In an article getting noticed in Japan, the Wall Street Journal writes that the Abe government’s idea to use technology sanctions against South Korea over the entirely unconnected issue of bilateral history disputes reflects taking “a page from Trump’s playbook.”

—The Abe government’s retaliatory trade controls against South Korea creating predictable public outrage in Seoul and elsewhere. There is talk of public boycotts against Japanese goods and other measures to hit back at Japan.

—Hong Nam-Ki, South Korea’s minister of economy and finance, says Japan’s export restrictions violate the principles of the World Trade Organization and that the Abe government needs to reverse course of its retaliatory trade policy.

—Interesting to see Shinzo Abe, who has been spending the last couple years posing as the international champion of free trade, now willing to cast all that aside for the cause of trying to intimidate South Korea into accepting his attempted whitewash of Pacific War history.

—In public remarks, South Korean President Moon Jae-In urged the Japanese government to withdraw its new export restrictions and threatened to retaliate if these restrictions damaged his nation’s businesses.

—Samsung Electronics Vice-Chairman Lee Jae-Yong visited Tokyo to discuss with semiconductor suppliers the new export regulations imposed by the Abe government on South Korea.

—South Korean President Moon Jae-In invites several dozen of his nation’s industrial leaders to personal talks in which they will discuss the best strategy to cope with the Abe government’s export restrictions on important industrial materials.

—The South Korean government asks for talks with Tokyo over its export restrictions on important industrial materials. The Abe government dismisses the request out of hand, saying no talks are needed and the restrictions will remain in place.

—Lotte Chairman Shin Dong-Bin arrives in Japan on a mission to ease bilateral tensions. Shin is apparently seeking a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with whom he has personal ties, in an effort to reach a compromise between Tokyo and Seoul.

—South Korean President Moon Jae-In describes Japan’s new export controls on key industrial materials as “an unprecedented crisis” and urges the Abe government to “no longer go toward a dead end” in bilateral relations.

—Japan and South Korea clash at the World Trade Organization, with the Koreans denouncing the Abe government’s new export controls as an instance of economic retaliation for political purposes, and the Japanese representatives asserting that no rules have been broken.

—South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-Yeon says his government will ask the National Assembly for a special budget of about US$100 million for measures to cope with the Abe government’s new export restrictions.

—South Korean media report that Russia has offered to supply Korean firms with hydrogen fluoride, thereby replacing supplies from Japan that are now subject to stricter export controls. Russia claims that its supplies are of equal or better quality.

—The Abe government maintains the tightening its export controls as new reports emerge that some South Korea exports have been illegal strategic goods that are used to built military weaponry.

—After Japan tightened trade restrictions claiming that South Korea could not be trusted to fully implement sanctions on North Korea, Seoul has demanded proof for the latest accusations, and has proposed an investigation by an international body, such as the United Nations.

—Abe government officials making the implausible claim that South Korea did NOT ask for a withdrawal of the new technology export restrictions in bilateral working level talks. South Korean officials express exasperation, saying that of course they demanded their withdrawal.

—The United States has no plans to mediate the dispute between Japan and South Korea, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell said in an NHK interview. Korea has been trying to court American support for its position.

Politics

—Following Amazon Japan last December, now Facebook has joined the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), one of the key political backers of the conservative ruling party and of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe specifically.

—Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano: “Okinawa is the birthplace of a coalition between opposition parties and citizens. We can expand this movement throughout the country.”

—Barring some major reversal of fortune, polls showing that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will easily maintain its majority in the House of Councillors elections. The real contest will be over whether they will maintain a Constitution-revision supermajority.

—Kyodo poll finds ruling Liberal Democratic Party support rate rising ahead of the House of Councillors elections while opposition parties are seeing declining support. Shinzo Abe appears to have succeeded again in making it an election about nothing, demoralizing the public.

—Jiji Press survey offers a more optimistic view than the Kyodo News poll, suggesting that the opposition might gain enough seats in the House of Councillors election to strip pro-Constitution revision forces of their supermajority, dealing a fatal blow to Abe’s plans.

—Boosted by the progressive political parties, the proportion of female candidates in the House of Councillors elections hit a record 28.1%. For example, the Japan Communist Party’s list of candidates is 55% female versus the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s 14.6% rate of female candidates.

—Abe government faceplants on its supposed goal of decentralization out of Tokyo: a plan to move the Consumer Affairs Agency to Tokushima Prefecture is scrapped on the argument that it would be an inconvenient location for “crisis management” and government communication. Of course, if the Abe government cannot devolve its functions to other parts of Japan, something completely under its control, then their encouragement for private businesses to move to the regions isn’t likely to advance very far. Abe government again all talk, no action.

—Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, probably intentionally, keeps describing Yukio Edano in street speeches as the “Democratic Party” leader rather than using the actual name, Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. Likely an attempt to scaremonger about a return to DPJ rule.

—Muneo Suzuki, supported by crooner Chihara Matsuyama and US-Russian actor Steven Seagal, enters the final week of the upper house election campaign declaring, “This is my last election. The Northern Territories problem is left unresolved. Please allow me to deal with it.”

International

—Japan resumes commercial whaling, ostensibly for the first time in 31 years. This comes after the Abe government’s withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission. There is mixed analysis about what Japan’s moves mean for the future of whaling.

—Australia: “While the Australian Government welcomes the end of whaling in the Southern Ocean, we are disappointed that Japan has withdrawn from the Convention and is resuming commercial whaling.”

—Fisheries Agency announces that Japanese whalers plans to hunt and kill 227 whales by the end of this year in line with the Abe government’s relaunch of (fully admitted) commercial whaling after more than three decades.

—Russian President Vladimir Putin after meeting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: “On the agenda is a project to create a new ‘Japan-Europe’ high-speed data transmission channel, which envisages, in particular, laying a subsea cable from Nakhodka to Niigata.”

—Shinzo Abe’s devotion to developing relations with Russia is often said to come from his father. Seemingly, Shintaro Abe’s own interest was sparked when he “was a reporter at the Mainichi Shimbun, he wrote a scoop on the 1956 Tokyo-Moscow joint statement.”

—After a lack of progress in Osaka, Sankei Shinbun demands fundamental change in Japan’s approach to territorial issue with Russia. “Other neighboring countries are watching how Japan tackles the national sovereignty violation of the Northern Territories issue.”

—Diplomatic sources say that Russia has rejected starting talks with Japan on the return of two disputed islands despite an agreement last year to advance talks based on the 1956 Joint Declaration, which offered to transfer two islands after a peace treaty is signed.

—Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura responded to Iran’s actions regarding uranium enrichment, saying, “We strongly urge Iran to abide by the nuclear agreement, immediately return to its commitments, and refrain from taking steps that would damage the accord.”

—The Abe government is intimating that they expect to be asked by the Trump administration to send military naval forces to the Persian Gulf. They are scrambling to figure out their response.

—Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford: “We’re engaging now with a number of countries to see if we can put together a coalition that would ensure freedom of navigation both in the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab.” Another Coalition of the Willing.

—Self-Defense Forces Chief of the Joint Staff Koji Yamazaki confirms that his team is in communication with the White House over Japan’s possible participation in an anti-Iran naval coalition in the Persian Gulf region.

—US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell visits Japan, making comments that seem to suggest Japan should get militarily involved in US wars. He declares that the US-Japan Alliance “will need to adapt” to increasing threats.

—Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya says that Japan’s Aegis Ashore system might shoot down missiles aimed at the United States, not only for the direct defense of Japan, and that gathered missile data might be shared with the US military.

—Rear Admiral Brian Fort has become commander of US Naval Forces Japan and Navy Region Japan (CNFJ/CNRJ) in Yokosuka. He was previously posted in Hawaii, and arrives after a series of naval collision accidents in the waters near Japan.

—Princess Mako has called on Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra, and visited Peruvians of Japanese descent. This marks the 120th anniversary of Japanese arrival to South America. She said, “I hope Japan and Peru will develop together.”

—US President Donald Trump announces on Twitter that US Ambassador William Hagerty will soon be leaving his post in Japan to run for the US Senate. This is a very short tenure for the US ambassador to Japan.

—Okinawa Prefectural Assembly approves motion to launch another lawsuit against the Abe government, this time challenging the legality of Land Minister Keiichi Ishii’s overruling of the Okinawa Prefectural Government’s cancellation of Henoko landfill operations.

—Polling suggests the All-Okinawa anti-base candidate Tetsumi Takara is on track to crush the Abe-government candidate in House of Councillors elections, yet another indication of the prefecture’s outrage at the forcible construction of the new US airbase at Henoko.

—Abe government donating US$2.3 million to build up the military forces of Fiji. In part this appears to be about improving their capacity to deal with natural disasters, and in part yet another anti-China move, intended to implement the undeclared containment policy.

Economy

—Japan’s Hotel Okura has made an agreement with Russia’s Aeon to build a 300-room hotel near Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. The hotel will be Japanese style with onsen baths and Japanese restaurants. Hotel Okura hopes to have five hotels in Russia by 2025.

—Japanese tourism companies are planning to launch tours on the Trans-Siberian Railway from next year. The ten-day tours will take place June-September and are part of government efforts to double aggregate visitor numbers between Japan and Russia to 400,000 by 2023.

—Seven-Eleven Japan opens fourteen outlets in Okinawa, its first in the southernmost prefecture, giving the nation’s largest convenience store chain a presence in all 47 prefectures.

—An agreement is reached to hold US-Japan bilateral trade talks in Washington from July 24 to 26. Tokyo doesn’t want these bilateral talks at all, but are trying to fend off Trump financial demands at the lowest cost possible.

Technology

—7pay and FamiPay, the smartphone payment services of Seven-Eleven Japan and FamilyMart respectively, both launched at the beginning of July. The third of the big three convenience store chains, Lawson, is taking a slower approach to this technology.

—Japanese police believe that a Chinese organized crime group was behind the hack of the 7pay system just days after it was launched by Seven-Eleven Japan across the nation. On the other hand, it appears that 7pay had security vulnerabilities in any case.

—Seven-Eleven Japan warns Gunma franchisee not to close from 11pm to 4am; METI warns Seven-Eleven Japan to get its house in order on 7pay, which was easily hacked by scammers within a week of starting service.

—Police have arrested a third suspect, also a Chinese national, in regard to theft from the new 7pay smartphone service launched by Seven-Eleven Japan. This suspect is a 21-year-old student whom police believe may have organized crime links.

—Financial Services Agency orders 7pay, the smartphone payment service launched by Seven-Eleven Japan, to upgrade its security and to report to the agency all instances of unauthorized access to the system.

—Torrential rains centered on Kagoshima Prefecture lead to over a million residents being advised to evacuate to shelters. The actual scope of the destruction, however, was relatively light this time.

—The Regional Maritime Pollution Exercise being held near Davao with the participation of the coast guards of Philippines, Indonesia and Japan. In particular, their exercises focusing on responding to a maritime oil spill.

—Fast Retailing, operator of Uniqlo, will begin using paper shopping bags starting in September as part of their contribution to combat plastic pollution. Abe government regulation remains weak, despite the prime minister raising the issue prominently at the G20.

—Marubeni, KEPCO, and Chuden form consortium with Manila Electric to create the first “smart city” in the Philippines. It will be located in the Clark Freeport and Special Economic Zone, formerly a US military base. This is perhaps an option for Okinawa’s future development as well.

—Central Japan Railway conducting tests of the world’s first bullet train powered by batteries. The idea is to use battery power to bring the trains to the nearest station if the normal electricity system fails.

—The Hayabusa-2 space probe has landed for the second time on asteroid Ryugu. The space mission is proving to be one of Japan’s most successful in recent years.

—Tokyo-based BITPoint Japan has apparently been hacked and is reporting losses of about 3.5 billion yen (US$32 million) in a variety of digital currencies. This is just the latest in a series of major robberies from Japanese cryptocurrency firms.

Society

—In a case of marked progress for Japan’s LGBT community, Ibaraki has become the first prefectural government to recognize same-sex couples through its issuance of “partnership declaration certificates,” effective today.

—Kim Kardashian, under heavy criticism, backs down and announces that she won’t be using the name “kimono” for her new shapewear. She received a letter from Kyoto Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa asking her to drop the name and to visit Kyoto to see real kimono instead.

—The first phase of the new national anti-smoking law takes effect, with smoking now banned indoors at government, school, and hospital buildings. The law, while it represents a step forward, was dramatically weakened by some Liberal Democratic Party politicians.

—New National Stadium on track for a December opening. The Kengo Kuma-designed facility was built instead of the more expensive and futuristic design by the late Zaha Hadid.

—Johnny Kitagawa, founder of the powerhouse talent agency Johnny & Associates. passed away at age 87. His influence within the Japanese entertainment industry had been legendary.

—According to the data of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the population of Japanese citizens (not including resident foreigners) fell by a record 433,239 last year. Seems that soon there will be half a million fewer Japanese each year. The Ministry of Internal Affairs data also shows that about 2.1% of Japan residents are now foreigners, and the percentage is rising each year.

—Hokkaido University President Toyoharu Nawa has been under investigation for power harassment, and the investigatory panel has reportedly decided to ask the Minister of Education to remove him from his post. Nawa denies all the charges.

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