East Asian Summary: September 5-8, 2021

Japan elections

The LDP leadership vote is scheduled for September 29, and the government is considering a vote for PM the following week, on October 4, according to Japan Today. The selection of a new PM would likely be followed by a general election by as soon as November 7.

Japan Today also suggests that Taro Kono, the minister in charge of vaccinations, is the “favorite to become PM” based on his poll numbers. According to the outlet, the Kyodo News agency found 32% support for Kono, 27% for the ‘dovish’ Shigeru Ishiba, 19% for the ‘moderate’ Fumio Kishida, and single digit support for the ‘hawkish’ Sanae Takaichi (backed by Abe). Because of the strength of the LDP, the president of the party is expected to become PM, but the selection of the president is confined to LDP members. Moreover, it is unclear if Ishiba will run.

Chinese publications see no change in Japan-China relations no matter the outcome of the elections. The Global Times view Kishida, Kono, and Ishiba as the frontrunners, but see the country as being lost in both the domestic and international doldrums. Japan is struggling against COVID and is dependent on China for trade but has thrown its lot in with the US on security. Japan will not respect China until China is as powerful as it was during the Tang Dynasty. China can afford to be patient with Japan, even though Japan is expected to get ‘tougher’ on China.

In another piece there, Japan’s ability to support Taiwan is likely limited by Japan’s fiscal constraints. Kishida is termed a “moderate” who “probably will not take any…bold measure[s] to defend Taiwan”, but Japan generally has limited ability to maneuver because it must “follow [the] US’ lead [sic] on the Taiwan question”.

China-Europe-US relations

On a number of foreign policy issues, Chinese outlets advocate taking a calm, patient approach. The democracies are unstable and weak, and China only needs to maintain stability to win the day. “The more steady China is, the more opportunities we will have to see the disputes between the US and Europe”, says The Global Times. Like Japan, Europe “cannot afford ‘decoupling’ with China” economically. As with Japan, they expect Europe to put increasing pressure on China “as leverage”, but China only needs to understand “the basic nature and outlook of China-Europe relations and have confidence in our ability to safeguard our interests in relation with Europe”. Ultimately, due to economic constraints and US unreliability, Europe will eventually have to become more reasonable vis-à-vis China.

Taiwan independence

The tone of patience and reason evaporates when it comes to Taiwan, unfortunately. Taiwan’s ruling DPP is warned of overestimating its strength and blames the DPP for the downturn in China-Taiwan relations. The language from China on Taiwan and Lithuania has been less belligerent in recent days, although the threat of force remains.

In Taiwan, the language continues to grow more confident in tone. In response to both Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) report that said China could ‘paralyze’ Taiwanese forces and the US debacle in Afghanistan, a piece in Taiwan News noted that Taiwan is moving from strength to strength. Having been embarrassed in Afghanistan, the US is less likely to let the same thing happen in Taiwan, there is growing support for Taiwan in Europe, and Taiwan’s military budget is increasing 10% compared to 2020.

A former official from the US Department of Defense argued in The Taipei Times that if China were to follow through on threats to fly over Taiwan and declare Chinese sovereignty in response to President Tsai’s possible participation in the US-sponsored Summit for Democracy, that would likely be viewed as an act of war and this would force Taiwan to declare independence.

Pakistan-China vs India-US

Chinese media has had a lot to say about Pakistan and Afghanistan and how the US and India relate to the situation there. There is none of the occasional optimism that one finds in Pakistani dreams of Chinese geoeconomics bringing peace to the region. Perhaps the most significant piece is from The Global Times, which is outraged at a reported willingness by the US and India to “cede their influence in Afghanistan” to China and Pakistan so long as Afghanistan does not “foster terrorism”. “The anti-terrorism mess is left to Afghanistan itself, or neighboring countries like China and Pakistan…It is China that binds the US and India together. Washington and New Delhi believe that if they can pass the buck to China and bring China down, then why not?”

China Military also argues that India is becoming increasingly nervous about what it sees as a “new Quad” (China, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan) centered on Afghanistan. It goes on to say that this is a kind of psychological projection of India’s fear of isolating itself in relation to the Indo-Pacific Quad if it is ultimately abandoned by the US and ASEAN. Having contributed to Asian instability, India is afraid of harvesting what it has sown, so to speak.

Myanmar instability

The Global Times accuses the “US and the West” of urging “Myanmar’s shadow government” to announce a full-throttled “public revolution”. It castigates the West for making an unstable situation more unstable; in effect, of repeating the mistakes it made in Afghanistan. Like it or not, the junta “has deep-rooted power in the country” and has successfully withstood “waves of protests…, bomb attacks…and sanctions”. “It has been proven that the Western-style system does not fit Myanmar.” Rumors in Myanmar media have suggested in recent days that China has told the junta it disapproves of attempts to disband the National League for Democracy (NLD), and although it urges the NLD not to start a civil war, it says, cryptically, the NLD, “which was overthrown by Myanmar’s military…is still the legitimate party in Myanmar”.

In its next breath, it says China adheres to a foreign policy of non-interference (something nobody in Myanmar believes), and then seems to make a list of reasons why China has a legitimate interest in Myanmar’s internal politics, a list that can be reduced to one word: spillover.

South Korean foreign policy

Two notable pieces on South Korea’s foreign policy…one on China’s attack on K-Pop and another on South Korea’s possible inclusion in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, both in The Korea Times.

The first piece argues that the combination of the continued ban on Korean performances in China as retaliation for THAAD and the new ban on K-Pop clubs suggests the Korean entertainment industry is being deliberately targeted. It also argues that China must not forget that “freedom of choice is a basic human right”.

On intelligence sharing with Five Eyes (plus Germany, India, and Japan), the paper sees it as a “double-edged sword”. Apart from the material benefits, South Korea could be seen as siding with the Quad against China. “South Korea…must go all-out to avoid a worst-case scenario in which it will be forced to choose sides”.

South Korean election

Domestically, a lot of attention is focused on the upcoming presidential race. The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), especially the frontrunner governor of Gyeonggi, is coming under increased criticism for fiscally irresponsible populism while the opposition People Power Party (PPP) is dealing with two issues. First, the frontrunner has been accused of leaking sensitive information to the PPP when he was Prosecutor General under the current DPK government. Second, there is a great deal of infighting among the PPP candidates, most recently about whether or not non-party members should be allowed to vote in the primary.

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