#9 Emergency declared – India & Japan sign MoU – Diplomatic documents declassified – South Korean court’s ruling

HIGHLIGHTS: 1st Jan – 15th Jan .

● Suga declares a month-long emergency in Tokyo and some other prefectures to contain the coronavirus spread.

● A South Korean court’s recent ruling prosecuting the Japanese government is likely to further worsen bilateral ties.

● Declassification of diplomatic documents reveal the Japanese government’s stand over the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

● India and Japan sign memorandum of cooperation in the field of ICT and 5G technologies.

● Japan’s exports seen rising for the first time in two years - Reuters poll.


1. POLITICS

● With an explosive growth in the number of new coronavirus cases, Japan is assessed to be in stage 4 of COVID-19. Consequently, the government has declared a month-long emergency, starting from Jan 7, to attain the goal of reaching stage 3 by controlling the spread of the virus. As a part of a threefold plan to contain the spread of the virus, the government has asked restaurants to restrict operating hours. However, many are skeptical about the effectiveness of this decision. The other two plans are: punish a business for noncompliance and alleviate public fear through vaccinations. But even senior government officials do not seem convinced. One of them was quoted in Asahi Shimbun, as saying that the single-month state of emergency will not be adequate to curb surging infections.

In a recent telephonic conversation between Suga and Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, it was mutually agreed on the need to distribute the coronavirus vaccine to      developing countries so as to ensure a safe and successful Tokyo Olympics. Their conversation also focused on the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit, scheduled in Dec. 2021. The summit, which will be hosted by the Government of Japan, aims to achieve SDG goals- in particular, to end malnutrition by 2030.


2. COVID-19 RELATED STORIES

● Different viewpoints and mixed opinions have been pouring in regarding holding the Tokyo Olympics during this summer. This is as a result of the onset of winter, and a resurgence of coronavirus, along with the identification of new strains. While the development of vaccines offers an optimistic environment, their distribution and administration being slow in many parts of the world have led Japanese medical experts to either call for cancelling the Tokyo Olympics or delaying them and hold the Games in an intermittent manner.

A Kyodo new survey reports that nearly 80% of the Japanese population are in favor of cancelling or rescheduling the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. The Tokyo Olympics were originally scheduled to take place in 2020.


3. ECONOMY

● In a Japan Times article titled “Basic income proposal by influential Suga adviser hard to sell in Japan”, economists and social welfare experts discussed  the pros and cons of having a basic income program implemented in Japan. The story says that “Tomohiro Inoue, an associate professor of macroeconomics at Komazawa University in Tokyo, believes universal basic income could become necessary to address widening economic disparities as artificial intelligence advances and jobs become more digitally oriented — a trend being accelerated by the pandemic.” Meanwhile, other economists predict that the Japanese public might not welcome the program as it comes at a cost of scaling down existing social welfare programs. The media announcement about the idea of Japan introducing a universal basic income program by Heizo Takenaka, one of Suga’s economic advisers and a member of the growth strategy panel, comes after favorable public reception of the 100,000-yen cash handout to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on households.

Gita Gopinath, Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund, is hopeful about the economic recovery of the US and Japan by the second half of 2021. In an interview to Yahoo Finance, she explained that the economic stimulus approved late last year would fuel this economic recovery. The IMF is expected to release the revised world economic outlook on Jan 26th. In Oct. 2020, the IMF forecast 4.4% contraction in global GDP in 2020 followed by a rebound of 5.2% in 2021.

● A Reuters poll shows that for the first time in two years, Japan’s exports rose in Dec. 2020. As compared to 2018, in December exports rose 2.4%. Kenta Maruyama, an economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and consulting, said that “exports are recovering thanks to a pickup in overseas economies. But the pace of recovery will likely slow down as they have come to the level before the pandemic and the virus cases are surging in Europe and other parts of the world.” The poll also hinted that the Bank of Japan will keep its policy interest rate at minus 0.1%.


4. BUSINESS

● In a meeting on digitalization, Suga’s government announced that it is kickstarting a new framework in February that would support cooperation between the midsize Japanese companies and foreign startups, mainly from Asia, in five fields. This initiative from the government is aimed at digital transformation of Japanese companies. The identified five fields are decarbonization, health care, next-generation mobility, retail business, and agritech. With Asia gearing up in the digital transformation, the government-led initiative is targeting companies from India, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Australia and Israel to partner with Japanese companies.

● Fugaku, Japan’s supercomputer was ranked first in the global top 500 list of other such supercomputers. It was originally designed not to compete with other supercomputers by excelling in numerical benchmarks but to use its computational excellence to tackle some of world’s biggest challenges in the fields of medicine, pharmacology, disaster prediction and prevention, environmental sustainability and energy, said Satoshi Matsuoka, the mastermind of the project.

● In a survey conducted by Mainichi Shimbun newspaper with 118 major Japanese companies, nearly 71% of the respondents said that they believe the economy will improve in 2021. But the number of companies that expressed intent to boost capital investment at home and abroad dropped from last year’s 17% to 14%.


5. FOREIGN AFFAIRS

● The Japanese government recently declassified a document that depicts the stand of the then Japanese leadership with regard to the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989. It is said that Japan was hesitant to join the global chorus of condemnation and was cautious not to criticize and isolate China. Japan’s WWII militaristic past played a role in this caution, as did the desire to      not strain bilateral ties with China     .

● During the Summit of the Arch in France on July 12, 1989, which was held in response to “The Tiananmen Square Incident”, Japan with the backing of the US, adopted a softer approach among all  the G7 countries.  It was proposed by then prime minister Sosuke Uno to encourage and look forward to China continuing its reformist policies and create conditions to avoid their isolation     .

● The recent ruling by a South Korean court asking Japan to compensate former “comfort women” is sure to further strain the bilateral ties with Japan. Takeo Akiba, a top bureaucrat from Japan's Foreign Ministry, called the decision “unacceptable and extremely regrettable”.
It all started in 1910 when Japan annexed the Korean Peninsula. Since then, historical issues have stymied the bilateral relationship. Tensions between the two countries reached new heights when Japanese companies were asked to compensate South Koreans for forced labor during Japan's colonial rule.

Japan and Uruguay signed an economic pact, commemorating 100 years of ties between the two countries. Toshimitsu Motegi and Francisco Bustillo, Foreign Ministers of Japan and Uruguay, respectively, agreed to promote free trade and develop bilateral economic and investment relationships.

● Toshimitsu Motegi and Marcelo Ebrard, the Foreign Ministers of Japan and Mexico, respectively, agreed to work on strengthening and expanding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact. The TPP currently constitutes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Recently Britain, South Korea and China have expressed interest in joining the TPP, while Japan, which is the current chair of the group, is keeping a close watch on whether the U.S. will join back under President-elect Joe Biden.

● The Indian cabinet recently approved a memorandum of cooperation (MoC) between Japan & India. The MoC would set up an institutional mechanism between the two countries for sending and accepting skilled Indian workers in the agreed 14 sectors. The sectors covered under this MoC are nursing, construction, building cleaning material processing, industrial machinery manufacturing, electric and electronic information related industry, shipbuilding and ship-related industry, automobile maintenance, aviation, lodging, agriculture, fisheries, food and beverages manufacturing and foodservice. An official statement elaborates that this MoC would enhance people-to-people contacts and foster mobility of workers and skilled professionals from India to Japan. This also mandates that workers equip themselves with Japanese language proficiency.


6. OTHER STORIES

● A 1300-year-old Buddhist temple named Yakushiji temple, which is a world heritage site in Japan’s ancient capital of Nara, will be partially opened to the public from March. Major renovation was carried out from 2009 until the end of last year. This Pagoda, a structure in the Buddhist temple, has been described by Ernest Fenollosa (1853-1908), an American historian of Japanese art and Tokyo Imperial University Professor, as “frozen music” for its rhythmical balance in appearance and beauty.

Seijin no hi(coming of age day) celebrates those who turned 20 and have become adults in the eyes of Japanese law. The day is marked by an annual public holiday on the second Monday of January. With the rising rate of COVID-19 infections, Seijin no hi ceremonies have been cancelled turning out to be a disappointment to the youths, who perceive the day as an important part of the youth culture.