Diplomatic Bluebook 2021

Chapter 2

Japan's Foreign Policy by Region

Section 2 Asia and Oceania

1 Overview

(General overview)

The Asia-Oceania region includes not only the second and third largest economies in the world, China and Japan, but also numerous emerging countries with remarkable growth. It is a dynamic region where diverse cultures and races intermingle and influence each other. This region, with an abundance of human resources, drives the world economy and has been enhancing its presence. Of the world population of 7.7 billion, approximately 3.6 billion people live in East Asia Summit (EAS) member states (excluding the U.S. and Russia).1 This represents about 48% of the world's population.2 The combined nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states, China and India increased by more than 260% over the last ten years, as compared to the world average of 140%.3 Total exports and imports of EAS member states (excluding the U.S. and Russia) are 10.15 trillion US dollars (2019), making it comparable to the EU (11.25 trillion US dollars).4 There are close economic ties among these nations, and they have a high degree of economic interdependence. Further economic growth is expected, and this strong growth within the region will also help to bring renewed affluence and vitality to Japan.

Meanwhile, the security environment in the Asia-Oceania region is becoming increasingly severe as seen in the following developments: the nuclear and missile development by North Korea; the strengthening and modernization of military forces in a manner that lacks transparency and attempts to change the status quo in the region by force or coercion that goes against the rule of law and openness; and tension within the region growing over the maritime issues. Other factors hindering the stable growth of the region include economic and financial systems still under development, environmental pollution, unstable demand and supply of food and resources, frequent natural disasters, and aging population.

Against this backdrop, Japan practices proactive diplomacy with neighboring countries as a pillar of its diplomacy, and has been actively engaging in diplomacy including at the leaders' and foreign ministers' levels. In 2020, due to the impacts of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), visits to other countries were severely restricted, but, even under such circumstances, the prime minister and foreign minister of Japan, in addition to face-to-face diplomacy, actively held telephone calls and teleconferences to maintain and develop good relations with neighboring countries. Regarding relations with Asia-Oceania countries, Prime Minister Abe actively discussed measures against infectious diseases in the region, such as by attending the Special ASEAN Plus Three (Japan-China-ROK) Summit on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Prime Minister Abe also held bilateral telephone calls with ASEAN countries and Australia. In July, Prime Minister Abe held a Japan-Australia leaders video teleconference meeting to exchange views on various issues such as responses to COVID-19. Since the inauguration of the new Cabinet in September, Prime Minister Suga has held telephone calls with Australia, China, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and many other Asia-Oceania countries, and has built relationships of trust with the leaders of each country. In October, Prime Minister Suga visited Viet Nam and Indonesia as his first overseas visits since taking office, and Prime Minister Suga declared that Japan would continue to take the lead in contributing to regional peace and prosperity as an “Indo-Pacific nation,” while also clarifying Japan's determination to steadily realize a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP).” In November, Prime Minister Suga participated in ASEAN-related Summits that were held via teleconference (the Japan-ASEAN Summit Meeting, the Mekong-Japan Summit Meeting, the ASEAN Plus Three (Japan-China-ROK) Summit Meeting, the East Asia Summit (EAS), and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Summit). At the Japan-ASEAN Summit Meeting, the “Joint Statement of the 23rd ASEAN-Japan Summit on Cooperation on ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP)5” was adopted, and it confirmed that AOIP and FOIP share fundamental principles. Based on the Joint Statement, Japan is pursuing concrete cooperation to support ASEAN's efforts. At the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Summit, the RCEP Agreement was signed. Furthermore, in the latter half of November, Prime Minister Suga had a summit meeting with Australian Prime Minister Morrison, who was visiting Japan, and also had a summit telephone call with New Zealand Prime Minister Ardern, who was reappointed as Prime Minister. In January, Foreign Minister Motegi visited Viet Nam, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, and in August he visited Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, as well as visited Papua New Guinea in addition to his visits to ASEAN countries. In January, Foreign Minister Motegi attended the Japan-U.S.-ROK Foreign Ministers' Meeting in the U.S. and also met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha of the ROK. In March, Foreign Minister Motegi participated in the Japan-China-ROK Foreign Minister's Video Teleconference on COVID-19. In September, Foreign Minister Motegi also actively attended ASEAN-related Foreign Minister's Summits that were held via teleconference (the Japan-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, the ASEAN Plus Three Foreign Ministers' Meeting, the East Asia Summit (EAS) Foreign Ministers' Meeting, and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Ministerial Meeting). In October, the Second Japan-Australia-India-U.S. Foreign Ministers' Meeting was held in Tokyo, which was the first ministerial level international conference to be held after the spread of COVID-19, and a Japan-Australia Foreign Ministers' Meeting with Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne and the 13th Japan-India Foreign Ministers' Strategic Dialogue with Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar were also held. In November, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Japan and Foreign Minister Motegi met with him. In parallel with these diplomatic activities and despite the COVID-19 restrictions, Foreign Minister Motegi held telephone calls with many Asia-Oceania countries, maintaining and developing close cooperation with each country.

Japan is strengthening various cooperation in the Asia-Oceania region, and, in addition to continued Japan-ASEAN cooperation on AOIP, Japan will make meaningful use of various cooperative frameworks such as Japan-China-ROK trilateral cooperation focusing on the three areas of the environment, aging society and people-to-people exchanges.

Prime Minister Suga and his wife visiting Viet Nam (October 19; Photo: Cabinet Public Relations Office)Prime Minister Suga and his wife visiting Viet Nam
(October 19; Photo: Cabinet Public Relations Office)
Prime Minister Suga and his wife visiting Indonesia (October 20; Photo: Cabinet Public Relations Office)Prime Minister Suga and his wife visiting Indonesia
(October 20; Photo: Cabinet Public Relations Office)

  • 1 ASEAN (member states: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam), Japan, China, the ROK, India, Australia and New Zealand
  • 2 The State of World Population 2019
  • 3 World Bank (WB)
  • 4 International Monetary Fund (IMF)
  • 5 Adopted at the ASEAN Summit Meeting in June 2019. It is based on the principles of strengthening ASEAN Centrality in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as openness, transparency, inclusivity, a rules-based framework, good governance, respect for sovereignty, non-intervention, complementarity with existing cooperation frameworks, equality, mutual respect, mutual trust, mutual benefit, and respect for international law, such as the UN Charter, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and other relevant UN treaties and conventions. Based on this, it promotes cooperation in the areas of maritime cooperation, connectivity, the SDGs, and economic and other possible areas.
(Japan-U.S. Alliance and Indo-Pacific region)

The Japan-U.S. Security Alliance, with the Japan-U.S. Security Arrangements as its core, is the foundation of peace, prosperity and freedom, not only for Japan but also for the Indo-Pacific region. In the midst of an increasingly severe regional security environment, the Japan-U.S. Alliance is more important than ever. Since the inauguration of President Trump in January 2017 and until the end of 2020, more than 50 Summit Meetings, including telephone calls, were held. The two countries have been working closely at multiple levels, including at the summit level, to address the various issues of the Indo-Pacific region, including those related to North Korea.

Furthermore, Japan and the U.S., are deepening their cooperation in achieving FOIP, even when the movement of people is restricted due to COVID-19. In July, Mr. Stephen E. Biegun, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and Special Representative for North Korea of the United States, who was the first foreign dignitary to come to Japan after the spread of COVID-19, paid a courtesy call to Foreign Minister Motegi, and confirmed that Japan and the U.S. will work together to maintain and strengthen the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” even amidst the spread of COVID-19. In October, when U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Japan to attend the Second Japan-Australia-India-U.S. Foreign Ministers' Meeting, he paid a courtesy call to Prime Minister Suga and confirmed that Japan and the U.S. will work closely with their like-minded countries toward the realization of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” including through the initiatives of the Japan-Australia-India-U.S. Foreign Ministers' Meeting. In January 2021, at the Japan-U.S. Summit telephone call between Prime Minister Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden, the two leaders agreed that it is important to strengthen U.S. presence in the Indo-Pacific Region and agreed to work closely toward the realization of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” as well as on a variety of regional issues.

(Japan's measures on the comfort women issue)

(See 2(2)A(C) regarding the comfort women issue between Japan and the ROK.)

The Government of Japan has sincerely dealt with the issues of reparations, property and claims pertaining to the Second World War, including the comfort women issue, under the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which the Government of Japan concluded with 45 countries, including the U.S., the UK and France, and through other bilateral treaties, agreements and instruments. These issues including those of claims of individuals have already been legally settled with the parties to these treaties, agreements and instruments.

On this basis, the Government of Japan has actively taken measures to recover the honor of former comfort women and to provide remedies for them. In 1995, the Asian Women's Fund (AWF) was established with the cooperation of the people and the Government of Japan for the purpose of carrying out atonement and remedy projects for former comfort women. The Government of Japan provided a total of 4.8 billion Japanese yen. In addition, approximately 600 million Japanese yen was donated to the AWF by the people of Japan. The Government of Japan extended maximum cooperation to the AWF, which implemented medical and welfare support projects and provided “atonement money,” to offer realistic relief to former comfort women. As part of the AWF's projects, “atonement money” (2 million Japanese yen per person), which was funded by donations from Japanese people, was provided to 285 former comfort women (211 in the Philippines, 61 in the ROK, 13 in Taiwan). Moreover, the AWF provided funds in those countries/areas for medical and welfare support funded with contributions by the Government of Japan (3 million Japanese yen per person in the ROK and Taiwan, 1.2 million Japanese yen per person in the Philippines) (for a total of 5 million Japanese yen per person in the ROK and Taiwan, 3.2 million Japanese yen per person in the Philippines). Furthermore, using funds contributed by the Government of Japan, the AWF extended support for projects to promote social welfare services for elderly people in Indonesia as well as projects to help improve the living conditions of former comfort women in the Netherlands.

When the “atonement money” as well as the medical and welfare support were provided to individual former comfort women, then-Prime Ministers (namely, Prime Ministers Hashimoto Ryutaro, Obuchi Keizo, Mori Yoshiro and Koizumi Junichiro) sent signed letters expressing their apology and remorse directly to each former comfort woman.

As stated in the Statement by the Prime Minister issued in 2015, Japan will engrave in its heart the past, when the dignity and honor of many women were severely injured during wars in the 20th century. Japan will lead the world in making the 21st century an era in which women's human rights are not infringed upon.

Despite such sincere efforts by the Government of Japan, there are claims that can hardly be regarded to be based on historical facts, such as allegations of “forceful taking away” of comfort women and “sex slaves” as well as the figures such as “200,000 persons” or “several hundred thousands” for the total number of comfort women.

The Government of Japan's position regarding these claims is as follows:

“Forceful taking away”

“Forceful taking away” of comfort women by the Japanese military and government authorities could not be confirmed in any of the documents that the Government of Japan was able to identify.

“Sex slaves”

The expression of “sex slaves” contradicts the facts and should not be used. This point was confirmed with the ROK on the occasion of the Japan-ROK Agreement in December 2015 and the expression “sex slaves” is not used in the agreement.

Figures such as “200,000 persons” for the total number of comfort women

The figure “200,000 persons” lacks concrete evidence. As stated in the report of the Government study's result of August 4, 1993, it is virtually impossible to determine the total number of comfort women as no documents have been found which either indicate the total number or give sufficient ground to establish an estimate.

The Government of Japan has been making efforts to provide clear explanations regarding its sincere efforts and official position in international fora. Specifically, at the United Nations (UN), the Government of Japan has explained its position on a number of occasions such as during the examination of the Seventh and Eighth Periodic Reports by the Government of Japan on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in February 2016.

Installations of comfort woman statues6 have been observed not only in the ROK but also in the U.S., Canada, Australia, China, Germany, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Such moves are extremely regrettable and incompatible with the position of the Government of Japan. In February 2017, the Government of Japan submitted its amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court for the trial concerning a comfort woman statue installed in Glendale in the suburbs of Los Angeles, U.S. The Government of Japan will continue reaching out to various people involved in this issue to explain its position.

The below Ministry of Foreign Affairs website details Japan's Efforts on the Issue of Comfort Women.


website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan

  • 6 For the sake of practical convenience, they are referred to as “comfort woman statues.” However, the use of this term is not a reflection of the recognition that these statues correctly embody the reality of those women at that time.