Category Archives: BUSINESS

Where to now for Japan–South Korea relations?

South Korea deputy trade minister Kim Seung-ho (C) attends the General Council meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, 24 July 2019 (Photo: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse).

Japan–South Korea tensions are at their worst since the two countries normalised relations in 1965. Tensions over Japan’s colonisation of the Korean peninsula (1910–1945) and the territorial dispute over the Dokdo/Takeshima islets have long simmered in the background. These tensions have boiled over into trade relations and security cooperation.

How can we explain the timing of Japan and South Korea’s latest row? And how might the two countries de-escalate their current predicament?

Japan–South Korea tensions caught global attention in July 2019 when Japan imposed restrictions on the export of three chemicals to South Korea — fluorinated polyamides, photoresists and hydrogen fluoride. These chemicals are important to the South Korean economy as they are needed in the manufacturing of semiconductors and smartphone display screens, both key South Korean export products. Japan also removed South Korea from its ‘whitelist’ of preferred trading partners. South Korea no longer enjoys preferential treatment and is no longer able to import these chemicals in bulk.

The Japanese government says that the export controls are exclusively for national security purposes, necessary because of South Korea’s inadequate management of re-export controls and the military dual-use applications of the chemicals in question. Japanese media reported that in the past one of the chemicals found its way from South Korea to North Korea in violation of UN Security Council sanctions. South Korea has rejected this accusation, emphasised that it is faithfully implementing sanctions, demanded that Tokyo provide evidence and proposed an international investigation.

Japan’s trade measures against South Korea are widely perceived as aimed at punishing the Moon government for its other ‘misdeeds’. In November 2018 it cancelled the domestically unpopular comfort women agreement which the Abe government concluded with the Park Geun-hye administration in December 2015 and had intended as a ‘final and irreversible resolution’ to the …continue reading


Ninja house in Aomori looking for buyer

The owner of an Edo-era ninja house in Hirosaki City, Aomori, is looking to sell their traditional home. Ideally, the owner would like to find a buyer who wants to preserve the historic home. If not, they may have to demolish it due to the high cost of maintenance.

Some of the features of the house include a hidden compartment between the parlor and bedroom, allowing enough space for someone to hide, along with nightingale floors that are intentionally designed to make a chirping sound when walked upon, alerting occupants of any intruders.

The ninja industry went into decline after the end of the Edo period, but a particular group in the Hirosaki Domain continued long after. Ninjas had been stationed in this district to protect the north from Russian boats that were arriving in Yezo.

Historic ninja houses are becoming increasingly rare.

The To-o Nippo Press, September 8, 2019.
The Hirosaki Keizai Shimbun, November 16, 2019.

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What Mr Trump needs to hear from Mr Morrison

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison chats with US President Donald Trump in Osaka, Japan on 29 June 2019 (Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/Pool via REUTERS)

Author: James Curran, Sydney University

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s state visit to Washington later this week is a rare honour — the first for an Australian leader since John Howard in 2006 and only the second, behind French President Emmanuel Macron, granted by this administration. That is a mark of Morrison’s early success in connecting with Mr Trump, a leader not normally known for his acoustic sensibility to close allies.

The visit will undoubtedly give a symbolic flourish to the recent description by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of the US–Australia alliance as ‘unbreakable’. But the Prime Minister’s visit comes at a poignant time for his government’s management of Australian foreign policy. The truism that Canberra can maintain its delicate traversal of the diplomatic tightrope between Washington and Beijing is under genuine test.

One view is that Trump will demand a heavy price for the pageantry by demanding Australia choose America over China. That might be the kind of grandstanding that some equate with Trump, but it is unlikely. In any case, Pompeo’s recent remarks in Sydney — both on the manner of China’s rise and where Australia’s priorities ought to lie — have already done Trump’s dirty work. By raising the possible pre-positioning of US missiles on Australian soil, Pompeo lobbed a rather large stone indelicately into the Australian pond.

For Trump, it will probably suffice that Morrison has expressed sympathy for what the United States is trying to correct in its trade war with China, on holding China to account for how it operates within the international trading system, albeit in language that has little resonance in East Asia and undermines Australian and Asian interests in defence of the global trade rules against Trump’s own assault on them.

Just how much Washington has taken note of the different language Morrison uses on …continue reading


Japan’s deepening diplomatic crisis with South Korea

South Korean women take a selfie with signs that read 'No Abe' during an anti-Japan rally near the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, 3 August 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji).

Author: Lauren Richardson, ANU

Japan’s relationship with South Korea is not amicable at the best of times. Yet in recent months it has entered a rapidly descending diplomatic spiral of unprecedented depth and scope. Mounting bilateral friction over the intractable ‘history problems’ is steadily bleeding into the economic and security realms of the relationship. The result is a bilateral trade war with potential repercussions for the global supply chain of high-tech devices.

On the surface, it appears that a series of contentious developments in their longstanding history problems drove Tokyo and Seoul to this crisis point. South Korean President Moon Jae-in reneged on a diplomatic accord in 2018 that was purported to ‘irreversibly’ settle the ‘comfort women’ issue. The South Korean judiciary is also growing increasingly incessant in demanding Japanese companies pay damages to the Koreans mobilised for wartime labour.

These bilateral developments are doubtlessly playing a central role in the deterioration of Tokyo–Seoul relations. Yet there are broader strategic parameters to this dispute that have also shaped the contours of diplomatic friction, and these are largely being overlooked.

In short, there has been a major divergence in Seoul and Tokyo’s strategic views toward North Korea. This began to develop in January 2018 when Seoul embarked on a rapprochement with Pyongyang, while Tokyo’s policy on North Korea remained fundamentally unchanged. This strategic divergence, which has continued to deepen with time, undermined the ability of Japan and South Korea to cooperate in the security realm. By extension, it also reduced their diplomatic incentives to manage their history problems.

North Korea’s belligerence throughout 2017 encouraged Seoul and Tokyo to contain their diplomatic problems. As North Korean leader Kim Jong-un rapidly advanced his nuclear program, his missiles were frequently traversing Japanese airspace. Continental United States also came under threat with Kim’s successful launch of an inter-continental ballistic …continue reading


Why Seoul and Tokyo will keep fighting

A police officer stands guard near Japanese and South Korean national flags during a reception to mark the 50th anniversary of normalisation of ties between the two countries, Tokyo, Japan, 22 June 2015 (Photo: Reuters/Toru Hanai).

Author: Jiun Bang, University of Southern California

The usual trope concerning the bilateral relationship between Japan and South Korea is that tensions go back over 100 years. In turn, ‘history’ has become the unquestioning qualifier that precedes tensions. While this all sounds intuitive, it has done nothing for clarity. Contemporary bilateral tensions do not ‘go back centuries‘, mainly because history does not cause tensions — people do.

To be clear, it is the politicisation of history that is fuelling tensions. In July 2019, Japan politicised history by abusing trade measures to resolve a political dispute: specifically, by moving to restrict exports to South Korea of materials critical to the manufacture of semiconductors and smartphone displays after the 2018 South Korean Supreme Court ruling that favoured compensation for Korean wartime laborers from two Japanese companies. Holding currency swaps hostage to bilateral politics over historical disputes falls into the same category.

In August 2019, Japan dropped South Korea from its ‘white list‘ of countries receiving breaks on exports of certain critical items from Japan. Similarly, South Korea downgraded Japan from its list of countries receiving preferential treatment in trade. On 22 August, Seoul announced that it will no longer allow the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) to automatically renew. The GSOMIA’s specific purpose is to ensure the protection of classified military information. It attempts to prevent intelligence leaks by strengthening trust and elevating the quality of information being shared between countries.

Economic relations between the two have often managed to keep rolling despite souring politics. For instance, the first one-on-one meeting between former South Korean president Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not occur …continue reading