VIF News Digest: Far East including Japan, the Koreas, Indo-Pacific, Australia, Taiwan and ASEAN (Vol 2 Issue II)

January 16- February 15, 2018


ASEAN Leaders Present in Republic Day of India

In a historic moment, the leaders of all the ASEAN countries of Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines were present as chief guests in the Republic Day Parade of India. In his widely cited op-ed, published in a total of 27 newspapers and in 10 languages on India’s Republic Day, Prime Minister Modi talked about the India-ASEAN countries' partnership that will be of "great promise for their (nations') 1.9 billion people, (or) about one-fourth of humankind. He talked of India's centuries-old ties with its eastern neighbors and said the future of these ties looks even more promising. "Indians have always looked East to see the nurturing sunrise and the light of opportunities. Now, as before, the East, or the Indo-Pacific region, will be indispensable to India's future and our common destiny," wrote the PM.

Nirmala Sitharaman, the Defense Minister of India, lauded this achievement as an indication of India showing its priority to Southeast Asia and an enhancement of the Act East Policy. With the India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit celebrating the 25th Anniversary by signing the Delhi Declaration, cooperation was strengthened across various fields of collaboration.

Delhi Declaration signed between India and ASEAN

The conclusion of the India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit in celebrating the 25th Anniversary resulted in the signing of the Delhi Declaration. The statement addresses a range of sectors of India-ASEAN relations from politico-security, economic and socio-cultural cooperation.

India-ASEAN relations reaffirmed their commitment to ensure a regional rules-based order through existing multilateral institutions such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Asian Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM), Post Ministerial Conference +1 (PMC) with India, East Asia Summit (EAS) and ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime (SOMTC) as an aspect of politico-security cooperation. References were also made to the South China Sea and an early conclusion to a code of conduct; as well as ensuring peace and securing lawful maritime commerce and freedom of navigation and overflight in the region. There was also focus on forging closer maritime linkages by addressing common security concerns, search and rescue and to increase research engagement in education, development and innovation. The security cooperation also included emphasizing counter-terrorism collaboration and cyber security management in India-ASEAN relations.

The economic engagement covered the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and its early conclusion in 2018 while focusing on improving implementation of the India-ASEAN FTA. Maritime commerce and enhanced connectivity was also mentioned which included suggestions of encouraging private sector involvement to develop seaports, maritime logistics network and services in order for greater efficiency. There were calls to enhance cooperation in food and energy security and promote MSMEs. The sectors of science, technology and space collaboration while also seeking to strengthen business to business relations through the ASEAN-India Business Council with encouragement to establish the ASEAN-India Trade and Investment Centre.

The socio-cultural aspect focused on promoting civilizational and historical links by increasing channels of knowledge exchanges through policy makers, conferences, scholarships in universities and cultural centers. The sustainable use of the environment and empowerment of women were also highlighted as common objectives in the declaration.

Increased physical and digital connectivity cognizant of Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) 2025 and ASEAN ICT Masterplan (AIM) 2020 by utilizing the $1 billion credit for better infrastructure, which also urged the early conclusion of the India–Myanmar–Thailand Trilateral Highway (IMT) Highway were also reaffirmed in the Declaration. ASEAN efforts to narrow the development gap between the member countries through the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) Work Plan 3 were also appreciated by India in the Delhi Declaration.


Philippines Objects to China’s Naming of Undersea Features in Benham Rise

The Philippine government on February 14 rejected Chinese names given to some undersea features in a vast offshore region where the Southeast Asian country holds undisputed sovereign rights. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the Philippines had raised its concern with China over the names it proposed for the undersea features in Benham Rise in 2015 and 2017. He said the government may also officially notify the international hydrographic body, which lists such records, of its objection. Benham Rise lies on the other side of the Philippine archipelago from the South China Sea, where Manila, Beijing and four other governments have been locked in territorial disputes.

Duterte ordered an end to all foreign scientific research missions in Benham Rise after officials said the Philippines’ undisputed sovereign rights in the potentially oil-and gas-endowed body of water off its North-Eastern coast came under question. The President followed up with a warning that he will order the navy to fire if other countries extract resources from within his country’s exclusive economic zone, a 200-nautical mile stretch of sea where a coastal state has internationally recognized exclusive rights to exploit resources under a 1982 UN treaty. There were no immediate comments from Chinese embassy officials.

Philippines Patrols in South China Sea

Philippines deployed a patrol plane in the disputed shoal areas of the South China Sea. The plane was donated by the Japanese in a bid to improve Philippine capacity of maritime surveillance over its territory. The plane was one amongst the five refurbished Beechcraft aircraft of the Japanese, two of which have been delivered in 2017 with the remaining three to be transferred in 2018. Despite flying low over the Scarborough Shoal, the Filipino pilots did not face protests or challenges from the Chinese coast guard, despite it being practice to receive warnings from the Chinese that the territory is Chinese-claimed for foreign vessels.


Rakhine Crisis affects Western FDI flow to Myanmar

U Aung Naing Oo, secretary of the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) and general director of the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) projected that the crisis in Northern Rakhine region would affect the FDI inflow from the West, especially in light of the EU suspending negotiations on the Investment Protection Agreement. The flow of investment is expected to be modest in the next few years until political stability returns to the region. However, Singapore, China South Korea, Japan and Thailand are amongst the highest investors in Myanmar and is hoped to offset the decreased flow until investment from the West increases again.

China and Myanmar hold High-Level Consultations

China and Myanmar held the third Myanmar-China (2+2) High Level Consultations where emphasis on laid on improving all-around bilateral strategic cooperation. There was agreement to also strengthen cooperation to ensure peace and stability in Northern Myanmar in the border areas. The Myanmar-China Economic Corridor initiative was also encouraged to begin while China urged parties in Myanmar to adhere to the Panglong Conference spirit in reaching consensus on ethnicity-based issues for domestic stability.


Singapore and Sri Lanka sign Free Trade Agreement

Singapore and Sri Lanka had an official meeting on 23 January 2018, where Prime Minister Lee and President Sirisena discussed deepening bilateral relations and exchanged common views on regional security and international developments. Both countries emphasized the close historical and cultural ties that would facilitate better engagement and people-to-people linkages. The meeting concluded with the signing of the Sri-Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement that sought to strengthen trade and investment and deepen economic cooperation.

European Group to Bid for Malaysia-Singapore High-Speed Train

A European consortium, that includes France’s Alstom and Germany’s Siemens along with Italy's Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane and Austrian construction firm PORR, has partnered with a Malaysian firm to bid for a high-speed train project connecting Malaysia and Singapore, as was announced on February 12. The consortium is expected to face an array of competing bidders, including those from China and Japan. The 350-kilometre (217-mile) link that will connect Singapore with the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur is targeted to be completed by 2026. Bids must be submitted by the middle of this year and the contract is expected to be awarded by year-end. The railway is expected to cut travel time between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to 90 minutes from about four to five hours currently by road. It takes an average 50 minutes to travel by plane. There is currently no train service between the two capitals.


Indonesia to Assist Myanmar to Deal with Terrorism

In lieu of increased concerns in Myanmar over the threat of ISIS-linked militants entering into the country through Bangladesh, Indonesia’s Minister of Security, Law and Political Affairs Wiranto assured help in addressing the possible emergence of terror in the region. With ISIS militants losing ground in Philippines, the Rakhine region in Myanmar is believed to be a possible base for operations to increase radicalism. It is expected that a military team will be sent to Indonesia to discuss ways of overcoming possible terrorism.

China and ASEAN Agree to hold Joint Exercises

China and ASEAN countries agreed to hold the first joint military exercises by the end of 2018. The spirit of cooperation between China and the ASEAN countries was highlighted, particularly in addressing joint security concerns in the region. A table top exercise simulating an emergency situation was suggested that would be followed by a field training drill in the waters of the region, with an ASEAN member. The ASEAN defense ministers also called for the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea as well as for overflight, in the disputed waters of the region.

Senior official Chang offered assurances about ASEAN concerns of its increased activity, in light of combat patrol of the Su-35 fighter jets in the contested waterway. However, leading expert Koh claimed that ASEAN states were more keenly observing Chinese actions rather than official statements presented.


India Joins Australia Group

India became the 43rd member of the Australia Group, which is the third export control regime after the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). It is expected to strengthen supply chain security biotechnology and chemical fields. The Australia Group Plenary in June 2017 demonstrated strong support for India’s involvement in the group, which upon India’s reaffirmation of its intention to join, resulted in membership. The membership was conferred as a recognition of India’s commitment to align its export control system in line with the Australia Group and India’s efforts to contribute to the non-proliferation of chemical and biological weapons. It is expected that joining the Australia Group will pave the way for India to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that has been consistently blocked by China.

Chief Naval Officers of the Quadrilateral take Common Platform in Raisina Dialogue

The members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD), which met on the side lines of the 15th East Asian Summit in November 2017, projected stronger interest in taking forward the initiative as Chief Naval Officers took a common platform at the Raisina Dialogue. The forum aims to maintain peace and stability by addressing common security ranging from ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific and SLOCs, North Korea’s nuclear proliferation, maritime security, and connectivity in the region.

Formation of the Quadrilateral was first initiated by Japan in 2007, however strong protests from China resulted in Australia withdrawing from the initiative. The QSD was revived with growing concerns of increased militarization of China in the South China Sea, its non-compliance to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) verdict and increased assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific. The discussions of the QSD while oriented around regional stability, has China’s growing influence and the impact on the regional order as key facets of consideration.


With Ties Improving, Japan, China vow to Resume Leaders' Visits

On January 27, Japanese Foreign Minister Kono Taro, during his visit to China, affirmed with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi the importance of mutual visits by their leaders for full-fledged improvement in Japan-China relations. Kono and Wang also agreed to hold as soon as possible a trilateral summit including South Korea, which Tokyo wanted to host last year. The summit would bring Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to Japan for the first time since he took office in 2013. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping have yet to exchange official visits.

In addition, North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear ambitions were on the agenda during the meeting, as Japan asked China to exercise leverage over Pyongyang and play a key role in forcing the country to change its policy. Tokyo and Beijing agreed to continue working together to realize denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Meanwhile, Kono also lodged a protest over the entry of a submerged Chinese submarine into the contiguous zone around Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands earlier in January, urging Beijing to take preventive steps. Kono and Wang agreed to make efforts for the early implementation of a "Maritime and Aerial Communication Mechanism" in the East China Sea, where China challenges the sovereignty of the Senkakus.

Bilateral relations, however, appear to be improving after both Abe and Xi bolstered their domestic power bases late last year. Kono also met Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi, the nation's top diplomat.

Abe, Moon affirm 'Pressure' Stance on North Korea ahead of Olympics

In talks held on February 9, ahead of the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he and South Korean President Moon Jae-in affirmed their shared stance of heightening pressure on North Korea. While preparations for the Pyeongchang Games have involved dialogue and displays of unity between the two Koreas, Abe said he and Moon reiterated that there is a need to continue to press the North over its nuclear weapons and missile development, as agreed between Japan and the United States. "North Korea must recognize that the strong ties between Japan, the United States and South Korea will never waver," he told reporters after the meeting with Moon. "We need all UN member states to strictly enforce Security Council resolutions and raise pressure to the maximum degree until North Korea (agrees to) change its policies and comes to us seeking dialogue," he said.

LDP body Pushing for Article 9 revision Draft within Month

The Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution aims to draft a revision proposal for the Japanese Constitution's pacifist Article 9 by February end in line with Prime Minister Abe's suggestion to define the existence of Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF). Internal party opinion on revising Article 9 has coalesced around three main proposals: adding a third paragraph specifying the SDF's existence; adding a third paragraph specifying Japan's right to defend itself; or eliminating the second paragraph and replacing it with a clarification of the SDF's purpose and capabilities. The headquarters aims to have a final revision proposal ready before the LDP convention on March 25.

Japan, Russia make Scant Progress in latest Isles Talks

On February 6, Japan and Russia held a round of vice-ministerial-level talks on a long-standing territorial row over a group of islands, exploring talking points for further dialogue but made little tangible progress. The officials did agree to hold a meeting of a lower-level working group ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's planned visit to Russia in May for talks with President Vladimir Putin. On-going negotiations appear to have been further complicated by defense developments on both sides. Japan raised concern earlier this month over Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's authorization for military use of a civilian airport on the island of Etorofu, called Iturup by Russia and a counter-terrorism drill held on Kunashiri, one of the disputed islands. Russia, meanwhile, has sounded caution over Japan's planned expansion of its missile defense system. The deployment of the US-made Aegis Ashore system is aimed at dealing with the threat from North Korea, but Moscow worries it could be used by the United States in an attack capacity.

Japan Provides US $700 million to African Development Fund

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has signed a loan agreement with the African Development Fund (ADF) designed to provide an Official Development Assistance (ODA) loan to the tune of 73.601 billion Japanese Yen (approx. US $700.9 million). The loan is part of Japan’s contribution to the ADF’s Fourteenth Replenishment (ADF-14). This is the first JICA loan provided to the ADF. The loan will provide the ADF with resources to support recipient countries during the ADF-14 period (January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2019), and contribute to economic growth as well as poverty alleviation in Africa’s least developed countries. The ADF is part of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group and provides support primarily to least developed and poor countries in the form of very long-term, low-interest financing. In contrast, the ADF, which is the other arm of the African Development Bank Group, provides financing to middle-income countries in Africa.

71 Percent of Japanese Firms Short of Workers: Survey

Some 71 percent of Japanese companies say they are short of workers, according to the results of a Ministry of Finance survey released on January 31. The poll was conducted from late November last year to mid-January, primarily through the ministry's 11 regional finance bureaus across Japan, and received responses from 1,341 companies ranging from large enterprises to medium and small businesses. Overall, the survey responses highlighted the growing impact of Japan's low birth rate, and the difficulty companies are having in getting and keeping sufficient numbers of employees. Concurrently, the number of foreign workers in Japan hit a record high of around 1.28 million as of late October, with the aging society continuing to rely on foreign trainees and students to make up for labour shortages, the labour ministry said on January 26. The figure was up 18 percent from a year earlier to 1,278,670, the highest since comparable data became available in 2008, according to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

By nationality, the number of Chinese workers made up the biggest group at 372,263, up 8 percent from a year earlier, followed by Vietnamese, whose number soared 40 percent to 240,259 accounting for 35 percent of the total increase. Filipinos came in third at 146,798, up 15.1 percent, followed by Brazilians at 117,299, up 10.0 percent, and Nepalese at 69,111, up 31.0 percent.

Korean Peninsula

North Korea

North Korea in Trump’s State of the Union Speech

In his first State of the Union speech to the US Congress, President Donald Trump’s tough rhetoric on North Korea underscored persistent tensions. Branding North Korea's leadership "depraved," Trump mentioned that Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear missiles could "very soon threaten our homeland" and vowed a continued campaign of maximum pressure to keep that from happening. "North Korea's reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland," Trump said. "We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from ever happening." "We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and to our allies," he added.

Swine Flu sweeps North Korea

Over 110,000 North Koreans are infected with a potentially deadly strain of flu, raising concerns that it may have spread to South Korea following cross-border visits of the delegations in preparation for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Citing North Korea's Ministry of Public Health, an International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) official said earlier in February that the country documented 179,259 individuals with flu-like symptoms and 110,015 confirmed cases of influenza A (H1N1) as of January 23. Gwendolyn Pang, who oversees IFRC operations in East Asia, said the number of H1N1-infected patients increased from 81,640 on January 16. She said H1N1, also known as swine flu as it is endemic in pigs, has spread across North Korea, with Pyongyang accounting for 29 percent of the cases in the outbreak.

North Korean Leader bolsters Peace Offensive

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's peace offensive toward the South is raising speculation of further progress in inter-Korean relations. The North's state news agency reported on February 13 that Kim provided a detailed plan on developing inter-Korean relations after being briefed by a high-level delegation on its visit to the South for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. "(Kim) expressed gratitude, stating it was impressive that the South set importance on the visit by our delegation, and made the utmost efforts to assist and support their activities," the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) report said. The article quoted Kim as stating, "It is important to keep accumulating fine results, by taking the atmosphere of reconciliation and dialogue a step further." Kim presented in detail the direction in which inter-Korean relations should develop and ordered plans to be set up to this end. The article did not however, specify what these plans were.

US may Talk with North Korea

The White House's National Security Council (NSC) said the US was "willing to engage North Korea" to emphasize its position that the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was non-negotiable. The maximum pressure campaign will intensify until the North Korean regime denuclearizes," an NSC official was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency. The US State Department echoed the view on simultaneous "maximum pressure and engagement" in a February 13 briefing. It said preliminary talks, or "talks for talks" with Pyongyang, were possible. This was in line with the latest remarks of US Vice President Mike Pence, who said "the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we'll talk," on his way back to Washington after visiting South Korea for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games opening ceremony according to the Washington Post.

The change in his stance came after South Korean President Moon Jae-in assured in their meetings he would make sure the North would not get any economic or diplomatic benefits for just starting talks, and that these would come only after it took concrete steps toward denuclearization, according to the Washington Post.

South Korea

North Korea Invites Moon for Summit

Kim Jong-un invited South Korean President Moon to a summit in the North, an offer extended by his sister and special envoy Kim Yo-jong, who made history as the first member of the North’s ruling dynasty to visit the South since the Korean War during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Moon did not immediately accept the invitation and has said he hopes the “right conditions” will be created so it can go ahead.

Withdrawal of Cha: US considering Limited Strikes on North Korea?

President Trump's withdrawal of his pick for ambassador to South Korea has fanned concerns that the administration is seriously considering a military strike on North Korea. Victor Cha, who served on the White House National Security Council under George W. Bush, was dropped after reportedly voicing reservations about the Trump administration's consideration of a limited strike on nuclear and missile facilities in the North. The news came amid a rare opening for reconciliation between the two Koreas. Trump has supported the inter-Korean talks, but his withdrawal of Cha appears to lend weight to the voices within his administration that advocate the use of force against North Korea's growing nuclear threat, according to analysts.

Pence’s Visit to South Korean Winter Olympics

During his visit to South Korea for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, US Vice President Mike Pence with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, reaffirmed the maximum pressure and sanctions against Pyongyang for dialogue aimed at denuclearization in a February 8 meeting. Pence earlier had said that Washington would soon unveil "the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever." He also denounced the oppressive state of North Korea in a meeting with four North Korean defectors on February 9. Pence also visited a memorial displaying a South Korean Navy frigate that sank due to a torpedo attack by the North in March 2010, which killed 46 South Korean sailors. The US leader vowed before and during his trip to South Korea that he would not let the North use the Olympics as a propaganda tool to cover up its human rights abuses. He was seen avoiding direct contact with Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong and other members of the North Korean delegation in Pyeongchang.

South Korean Journalists notice Luxury Ski Resort unaffected by UN Sanctions

The Masikryong Ski Resort near North Korea's east coast city of Wonsan in (North) Gangwon Province appears unaffected by UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions. The souvenir stores of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's pet project were filled with international luxury brands, including Bally handbags, Kenzo perfumes and colognes, and Lancome cosmetics, according to a pool of South Korean journalists who visited there from January 31 to February 1. The journalists accompanied South Korean skiers who were invited for joint training with North Korean athletes as part of preparations for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. The stores also sell products from well-known sports and outdoor equipment brands, such as Nike gym clothes, Adidas hats and socks, and The North Face backpacks.


US House passes Taiwan Travel Act

The US House of Representatives has unanimously passed the Taiwan Travel Act, legislation that encourages visits between Taiwan and the US at all levels, including high-ranking officials. The bill, a follow-up to the Taiwan Relations Act, was introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce and others in January last year and was passed by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in October before being submitted for a vote by the full House. The legislation still has to be passed by the US Senate to become law.

Taiwan says China Air Route Dispute will Determine Future Ties

A dispute with China over its opening of new air routes near Taiwan will determine future relations between Taipei and Beijing, Taiwan’s government said amid a deepening disagreement that could strand thousands over an important holiday. The spat has become increasingly bitter, with both sides trading accusations after two Chinese airlines cancelled extra flights to Taiwan over the Lunar New Year, the most important holiday in the Chinese calendar, potentially leaving thousands of Taiwanese without tickets to go home.

Taiwan bristles as Flag Vanishes from US Government Websites

The erasure of Taiwan's flag from a number of US government websites has made waves on the island, with authorities expressing deep disappointment to Washington, which claims its stance toward the Taiwanese government remains unchanged. With China ramping up efforts to isolate Taiwan on the world stage, the move could be seen as an attempt by the US to curry favour with Beijing. Various Taiwanese media outlets have reported that the flag's "blue sky, white sun and wholly red earth" have since October been removed from introductory web pages for Taiwan belonging to the Department of State and the Office of the US Trade Representative. Other flags are said to have been removed from State Department pages as well.