Diplomatic Bluebook 2021
Japan's Foreign Policy by Region
2 Korean Peninsula
(1) North Korea (including the abductions issue)
The Government of Japan has been taking various initiatives to realize its basic policy of seeking to normalize its relations with North Korea through comprehensively resolving outstanding issues of concern, such as the abductions, nuclear and missile issues, and settling the unfortunate past in accordance with the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration of September 2002.
Continuing from 2019, North Korea launched ballistic missiles four times in March 2020, blew up the Inter-Korean Liaison Office in Kaesong in June, and in October, the military parade for the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) featured possible new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). Under such circumstances, Japan will continue to fully implement relevant UN Security Council resolutions and aim for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, coordinating closely with the U.S. and the ROK and cooperating with the international community, including China and Russia.
With regard to the abductions issue, Japan continues to call on North Korea to implement the May 2014 Japan-North Korea agreement (the agreement in Stockholm)7 and will continue to make utmost efforts to realize the return home of all abductees at the earliest possible date, while coordinating closely with relevant countries including the U.S.
- 7 In May 2014, Japan-North Korea Intergovernmental Consultations were held in Stockholm, Sweden. North Korea promised to conduct a comprehensive and full-scale investigation on all Japanese nationals, including abductees.
A North Korea Nuclear and Missile Issues
North Korea has not carried out the dismantlement of all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner, in accordance with a series of relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
A plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the WPK was convened from December 28 to 31, 2019. Chairman of the State Affairs Commission Kim Jong Un reportedly stated at the meeting, “The world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK in the near future,” noting it should “conduct the offensive for frontal breakthrough, not to wait for the situation to turn better.” On October 10, 2020, a military parade was held for the 75th anniversary of the founding of the WPK and Chairman Kim stated that “We have built deterrence that can sufficiently control and manage any military threat that we may face” and that “We will continue to strengthen our war deterrent as a justified self-defense measure to deter, control, and manage all dangerous attempts and intimidatory actions by the hostile forces, including their nuclear threats that are continuously aggravating.” Additionally, the 8th Congress of the WPK was held from January 5 to 12, 2021. It was reported that Chairman Kim stated that defense capability must be constantly strengthened as long as the danger of war of aggression continues, referring to nuclear weapons that are smaller and lighter, and that have multiple warheads, and to the development and possession of nuclear submarines, hypersonic weapons and military reconnaissance satellites. Furthermore, the military parade in October 2020 and the military parade to commemorate the 8th Congress of the WPK in January 2021 featured possible new intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles in addition to the weapons that can be seen as the ballistic missiles that had been test-launched in 2019.
North Korea repeatedly launched short-range ballistic missiles from May to November 2019, launched short-range ballistic missiles four times in March 2020, and launched ballistic missiles in March 2021. Some of these launches had the characteristic of flying at lower altitudes than conventional ballistic missiles on irregular trajectories. Such launches pose a serious challenge not only to Japan but also to the international community and are totally unacceptable.
It is crucial that the international community makes concerted efforts to fully implement the UN Security Council resolutions for the dismantlement of all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner by North Korea. As part of the Japan Coast Guard's patrolling activities and the Self-Defense Forces' monitoring and surveillance activities, Japan has been conducting information gathering on the activities of vessels suspected to be violating the UN Security Council resolutions. When the Government of Japan finds activities strongly suspected to be violating the UN Security Council resolutions, including ship-to-ship transfers with North Korean vessels, measures have been taken such as notification to the UN Security Council 1718 Sanctions Committee and other bodies, sharing of information with related countries, and releasing of information to the public. Aircraft of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, in addition to the U.S. engaged in monitoring and surveillance activities against illicit maritime activities, including ship-to-ship transfers, using Kadena Air Base. Furthermore, monitoring and surveillance activities were conducted in waters surrounding Japan including the East China Sea, by naval vessels such as multiple vessels of the U.S. Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy frigate WINNIPEG and the Royal Australian Navy Frigate HMAS ARUNTA. From the perspective of further deepening the multinational cooperation, Japan considers it significant that Japan, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK and France are sharing information and coordinating efforts to ensure that UN Security Council resolutions are implemented fully and effectively.
B The Abductions Issue and Japan-North Korea Relations
(A) Basic Position on the Abductions Issue
To date, the Government of Japan has identified 12 separate incidents, involving a total of 17 Japanese abductees, 12 of whom have not yet returned home. North Korea claims that 8 of these 12 abductees have died and that it is unable to confirm that the other 4 ever entered its territory, but as no convincing explanation of this claim has been provided, Japan continues to work toward the resolution of this issue on the assumption that all of the abductees whose whereabouts are unknown are still alive. As well as being a critical issue concerning the sovereignty of Japan and the lives and safety of Japanese citizens, abductions by North Korea constitutes a universal issue among the international community as a violation of basic human rights. Additionally, as the families of the victims continue to age, there is no time to lose before we resolve the abductions issue. Based on the basic recognition that the normalization of its relations with North Korea is impossible without resolving the abductions issue, Japan has positioned its resolution as the most important issue. Accordingly, Japan has strongly urged North Korea to provide a full account of all the abduction cases, to hand over the perpetrators to Japan, and to ensure the safety of all abductees and their immediate return to Japan, irrespective of whether the abductees are officially identified. In January 2021, Prime Minister Suga gave a policy speech where he stated that “concerning the abductions issue, which is a top priority for my administration, I will make utmost efforts to take the lead and collaborate closely with the United States and other countries concerned.”
(B) Initiatives by Japan
Following the nuclear test by North Korea in January 2016 and the launch of the ballistic missile in the following month, which North Korea purported to be a “satellite,” Japan announced its autonomous measures against North Korea in February 2016. In response, North Korea unilaterally announced that it would completely stop the investigations on all Japanese nationals and dissolve the Special Investigation Committee. Japan lodged a serious protest against North Korea, conveyed its intention of not abandoning the agreement in Stockholm, and strongly demanded that North Korea implement the agreement and return all the abductees home at the earliest possible date.
(C) Japan-North Korea Relations
During the reception of the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games Opening Ceremony hosted by President Moon Jae-in on February 9, 2018, Prime Minister Abe brought up the abductions, nuclear and missile issues and conveyed Japan's basic position to Kim Yong Nam, President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of North Korea. Prime Minister Abe strongly urged North Korea to resolve the abductions issue, especially the return of all abductees to Japan. In September, Foreign Minister Kono held a meeting with the North Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong Ho at the UN headquarters.
In September 2020, Prime Minister Suga addressed the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, declaring that “As the new Prime Minister of Japan, I am ready to meet with Chairman Kim Jong Un without any conditions. Establishing a constructive relationship between Japan and North Korea will not only serve the interests of both sides but will also greatly contribute to regional peace and stability.”
(D) Cooperation with the International Community
In order to resolve the abductions issue, it is essential for Japan not only to proactively urge North Korea, but also to gain understanding and support from other countries regarding the importance of resolving the abductions issue. Japan has taken all possible diplomatic opportunities to raise the abductions issue, including at summit meetings, foreign ministers' meetings and international conferences such as the G7 Summit, the Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Summit, the Japan-U.S.-ROK Foreign Ministers' Meeting, ASEAN-related Summit Meetings and UN meetings.
With regard to the U.S., President Trump raised the abductions issue with Chairman Kim at the U.S.-North Korea Summit in June 2018, at the request of Prime Minister Abe. At the second U.S.-North Korea Summit in February 2019, President Trump raised the abductions issue with Chairman Kim at the tête-à-tête meeting, which was held first on the first day, and clearly stated Prime Minister Abe's views regarding the abductions issue. In addition, at the small group dinner that followed, President Trump again raised the abductions issue, and a serious discussion was held between the leaders. When President Trump visited Japan in May 2019, he met with the families of the abductees as he had done during his previous visit in November 2017, listened attentively to the emotional pleas by the family members and encouraged them. During the Japan-U.S. Summit telephone call in September 2020, Prime Minister Suga expressed his intention to work resolutely toward the early resolution of the abductions issue, and asked for President Trump's continued full support. In a telephone call with President Biden in January 2021 as well, Prime Minister Suga asked for understanding and cooperation toward the early resolution of the abductions issue and President Biden offered his support.
With regard to China, at the Japan-China Summit Meeting in June 2019, President Xi Jinping stated that he had conveyed Japan's position on Japan-North Korea relations and Prime Minister Abe's views to Chairman Kim during the China-North Korea Summit held in the same month. Prime Minister Abe also gained the strong support of President Xi for the improvement of Japan-North Korea relations, including the abductions issue. During the Japan-China Summit telephone call in September 2020, Prime Minister Suga raised to President Xi the issue of addressing North Korea, including the abductions issue, and they confirmed that Japan and China would continue to cooperate with each other.
The ROK has raised the abductions issue with North Korea at multiple opportunities, including the Inter-Korean Summit in April 2018. At the Japan-ROK Summit Meeting in December 2019, President Moon Jae-in of the ROK expressed his understanding for Japan's position regarding the importance of the abductions issue and stated that the ROK had repeatedly raised the abductions issue with North Korea. During the September 2020 Japan-ROK Summit telephone call, Prime Minister Suga asked for continued support for the resolution of the abductions issue. In response, President Moon Jae-in expressed his support for Japan's position on the abductions issue, and the two leaders reconfirmed the importance of Japan-ROK and Japan-U.S.-ROK cooperation.
At the United Nations Human Rights Council in June and at the UN General Assembly in December, the EU submitted the Joint Statement on DPRK Human Rights, which was co-sponsored by Japan, and it was adopted without a vote. In December, an informal UN Security Council consultation on the human rights situation in North Korea was held, and afterwards, like-minded countries, including Japan, issued a joint statement urging the early resolution of the abductions issue, particularly the immediate return of the abductees.
Japan will continue to closely coordinate and cooperate with relevant countries, including the U.S., toward the early resolution of the abductions issue.
C North Korea's External Relations, etc.
(A) U.S.-North Korea Relations
From 2018 to 2019, the U.S. and North Korea held two summit meetings as well as a meeting between President Trump and Chairman Kim in Panmunjom, and in October 2019 U.S.-North Korea working-level talks were convened in Stockholm (Sweden). However, in 2020 no concrete progress was made in dialogues between the U.S. and North Korea. On July 10, Kim Yo Jong, First Vice Department Director of the Central Committee of the WPK, issued a statement stating that “Unless there is a decisive change in the position of the U.S., I think that a summit between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the U.S. is unnecessary this year and beyond, and will continue to be useless, at least to us.” Additionally, in a report made at the 8th Congress of the WPK in January 2021, Chairman Kim reportedly stated that “No matter who comes to power in the U.S., the true nature of U.S. policy toward the Democratic People's Republic of Korea will never change. The key to establishing a new Democratic People's Republic of Korea-U.S. relationship is for the U.S. to withdraw its hostile policy.”
In January, March, November and December 2020, the U.S. newly designated individuals and entities which are subject to sanctions for their involvement in the dispatch of overseas workers and cyberattacks by North Korea. The sanctions target entities in North Korea, as well as entities and individuals in third countries, including Russia and China.
(B) Inter-Korean Relations
In 2018 there have been great strides in inter-Korean relations, with three inter-Korean Summit Meetings, but, continuing on from 2019, there were no positive developments in inter-Korean relations in 2020.
At the end of January, the ROK and North Korea agreed to temporarily close the Inter-Korean Joint Liaison Office in Kaesong until the danger from COVID-19 was completely eliminated, and ROK officials returned to the ROK.
In June, North Korea intensified its criticism of the ROK because of the release of anti-North Korea leaflets by ROK defector groups, and blew up the Inter-Korean Joint Liaison Office on June 16. North Korea also revealed that it was considering “military action plans” toward the ROK, but at the preliminary meeting for the fifth meeting of the seventh session of the Central Military Commission of the WPK, which was attended by Chairman Kim, it was decided to suspend the plans.
In September, an incident occurred in which the North Korean military shot and killed a South Korean civil servant who was in the North Korean waters of the Yellow Sea, and, following this incident, North Korea sent the ROK a letter from the United Front Department, including an apology by Chairman Kim, to the ROK. In response, President Moon Jae-in said at a Chief of Staff meeting that he would like to take the apology by Chairman Kim as having an extraordinary meaning, create opportunities for dialogue and cooperation, and use it as an opportunity to turn around inter-Korean relations. The Government of the ROK, during its response to this incident, also announced the fact that in early September there had been an exchange of letters between the leaders of the ROK and North Korea. In an address at the UN General Assembly in September, President Moon Jae-in stated that “The Republic of Korea has been steadfast in seeking inter-Korean reconciliation,” “I propose today launching a Northeast Asia Cooperation Initiative for Infectious Disease Control and Public Health, whereby North Korea participates as a member along with China, Japan, Mongolia and the Republic of Korea,” and “I believe it (peace on the Korean Peninsula) begins with declaring an end to the war, an act that can affirm mutual commitments to peace.”
At the military parade for the 75th anniversary of the founding of the WPK, Chairman Kim stated that “I hope that this health crisis would come to an end as early as possible and the day would come when the north and south take each other's hand again.”
In a report made at the 8th Congress of the WPK, Chairman Kim reportedly stated that “Inter-Korean relations have regressed to the time before the Panmunjeom Declaration (signed at the April 2018 Inter-Korean Summit)” and that “Depending on the [ROK] attitude, we may return to a new starting point of peace and prosperity in the near future.” Six days after the Congress of the WPK, President Moon Jae-in stated at a New Year's press conference that “Our determination to meet [for an Inter-Korean Summit] at any time and any place and talk even in a contact-free manner remains unchanged” and also showed a positive attitude toward inter-Korean cooperation, including humanitarian cooperation.
(C) China-North Korea and Russia-North Korea Relations
The year 2019 marked the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and North Korea. In January, Chairman Kim visited China, and in June, President Xi Jinping visited North Korea for the first time since he took office. Events were also held both in China and North Korea to commemorate the anniversary. With regard to Russia-North Korea relations, Chairman Kim visited Vladivostok, Russia in April 2019 for the first time since he took office and held a meeting with President Putin.
On the other hand, due to the spread of COVID-19 in 2020, there were no travels by dignitaries between China and North Korea or between Russia and North Korea as before. Trade between China and North Korea, which accounts for approximately 90% of North Korea's entire external trade excluding inter-Korean trade, had also significantly reduced due to traffic restrictions following the spread of COVID-19.
(D) Other Issues
In 2020, a total of 77 drifting or wrecked wooden vessels presumed to be from North Korea were discovered (158 in 2019). The Government of Japan continues its effort to gather and analyze information, with great interest on relevant developments. In September, fishery patrol vessels of the Fisheries Agency confirmed a vessel that appeared to be a North Korean official one in Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the west of the Yamatotai bank in the Sea of Japan. As a result of information gathering and analysis by the relevant ministries and agencies, it was identified as a North Korean official vessel, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs conveyed Japan's position to North Korea. Japan will continue to deal appropriately with these issues in close coordination among relevant ministries and agencies.
D Domestic Political Affairs and Economy
(A) Political Affairs
The 8th Congress, which is the highest decision-making institution in the WPK, was held for eight days from January 5 to 12, 2021. It was the first time in approximately five years since the 7th Congress of the WPK that was held in May 2016.
It was reported that at the Congress of the WPK, Chairman Kim mentioned the continuation of nuclear and missile development and external relations (U.S.-North Korea relations, inter-Korean relations), etc. in an activity summary of achievements/reflections on the past five years and of future issues, and that a new “Five Year National Economic Development Plan” was presented. Personnel affairs such as the appointment of Chairman Kim to the post of “General Secretary of the WPK” were announced along with amendments to the Rules of the WPK, which include articulating to hold a Congress of the WPK once every five years.
On January 14, after the closing of the 8th Congress of the WPK, a military parade was held to celebrate the 8th Congress of the WPK. On January 17, the 4th Session of the 14th Supreme People's Assembly was convened, and it was announced that members of the Cabinet relating to economic issues were appointed, and that legislation related to the “Five Year National Economic Development Plan” was adopted.
China accounts for the largest trade amount in North Korea's foreign trade, but in 2020 the scale of China-North Korea trade plummeted due to the impact of traffic restrictions following the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, it was reported that natural disasters such as typhoons continuously occurred and caused damage to agricultural land, houses, roads and railroads, etc.
Amidst these circumstances, at the military parade for the 75th anniversary of the founding of the WPK Chairman Kim said that “In the face of shortages of everything due to harsh and long-term sanctions, we are faced with the tremendous challenges and difficulties of having to control the emergency epidemic and recover from natural disasters,” mentioning that “Citizens are mired in inescapable hardships” and that “I am truly sorry for that.”
It was reported that at the 8th Congress of the WPK in January 2021, Chairman Kim stated that the goals listed in the “the five-year strategy for the national economic development” presented at the 7th Congress of the WPK were unable to be achieved due to sanctions, natural disasters and the global health crisis, and it was reported that the new “five-year plan for the national economic development” (2021-2025) was presented.
(C) Response to COVID-19
North Korea has strengthened its epidemic prevention measures following the worldwide spread of COVID-19 since January 2020. At the October 10th military parade for the 75th anniversary of the founding of the WPK, Chairman Kim said that “Nobody in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is infected with COVID-19.” As of December, North Korea claims that no COVID-19 infection within North Korea has occurred.
On January 30, it was reported that the previous “hygienic and anti-epidemic system” would be converted into the “state emergency anti-epidemic system” to respond to COVID-19. It was followed by suspension of all rail and air services between North Korea and China and Russia, and it was reported that the North Korean authorities took thorough measures to prevent the spread of infections, such as by implementing quarantine measures for individuals who were possibly infected. In July, an emergency enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the WPK was convened, and a decision was adopted to shift from the “state emergency anti-epidemic system” to the “maximum emergency system.” At the meeting, it was reported that one North Korean defector who returned to Kaesong City was suspected of being infected with COVID-19, and that a lockdown was imposed on Kaesong. Afterwards, although the lockdown of the city was lifted at the August 13 meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the WPK, it was reported that at the meeting Chairman Kim said “The situation requires to shut the border tighter and carry out strict anti-epidemic work.” At subsequent meetings of the Political Bureau, the necessity for thorough and strengthened epidemic prevention efforts has been repeatedly emphasized, and it was reported that at the 8th Congress of the WPK in January 2021 Chairman Kim stated in his report to the meeting that “We should create a reliable anti-epidemic basis for coping with whatever world health crisis.”
E Other Issues
Defectors who have fled North Korea have to be kept in hiding to avoid being cracked down by the authorities in the countries where they are staying or to avoid being forcibly repatriated to North Korea. The Government of Japan is addressing the protection of and support for these North Korean defectors, in line with the purpose of the North Korean Human Rights Violation Act, taking into account a comprehensive range of factors, including humanitarian considerations, the safety of those concerned, and relations with the countries in which these defectors reside. Relevant ministries and agencies in Japan are closely working together to promote measures aimed at helping the settlement of defectors accepted by Japan.
(2) Republic of Korea (ROK)
A Japan-ROK Relations
(A) Bilateral Relations
The Republic of Korea (ROK) is an important neighboring country. The two countries have built a close, friendly and cooperative relationship based on the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, the Agreement on the Settlement of Problem concerning Property and Claims and on the Economic Co-operation between Japan and the Republic of Korea, and other relevant agreements that the two countries concluded when they normalized their relationship in 1965. In spite of the above, in 2020, unacceptable situation to Japan has continued, including the issue of former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula (hereinafter referred to as “CWKs”), moves that are contrary to the intent and spirit of the 2015 Japan-ROK Agreement on the issue of comfort women, and military exercises in Takeshima.
Under these circumstances, at the Japan-ROK Summit telephone call held on the occasion of the inauguration of Prime Minister Suga in September, Prime Minister Suga told President Moon Jae-in that Japan-ROK and Japan-U.S.-ROK coordination is important, including for the issue concerning North Korea, and that the relations between Japan and the ROK, which is currently in an extremely difficult situation due to issues, including the issue of CWKs, should not be left as it is, and also urged the ROK to create opportunities to restore sound Japan-ROK relations. Prime Minister Suga also sought continued support for the resolution of the abductions issue.
Although the travel of dignitaries between Japan and the ROK is severely restricted due to the impacts of COVID-19, communication through the diplomatic channels continued, including a total of three Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers' Meetings (including telephone calls) and Japan-ROK Director-General-level consultations on multiple occasions.
Under these circumstances, on January 8, 2021, in the lawsuit filed by former comfort women and others against the Government of Japan, the Seoul Central District Court of the Republic of Korea rendered a judgment which ordered the Government of Japan, inter alia, to pay compensation to the plaintiffs, denying the application of the principle of State immunity under international law. On January 23, 2021, this judgment was confirmed. This judgment is clearly contrary to the international law and agreements between the two countries, and further exacerbates Japan-ROK relations, which are already in a difficult situation due to issues including the issue of CWKs. This judgment is extremely regrettable and totally unacceptable. Japan strongly urges the ROK to immediately take appropriate measures to remedy the status of its breaches of international law on its own responsibility as a country.
(B) The Issue of Former Civilian Workers from the Korean Peninsula (CWKs)
The Agreement on the Settlement of Problem concerning Property and Claims and on the Economic Co-operation between Japan and the Republic of Korea, which is the core of the normalization of their relationship in 1965, stipulates that Japan shall supply to the ROK 300 million US dollars in grants and extend loans up to 200 million US dollars (Article I). In addition, the Agreement stipulates that the “problem concerning property, rights and interests of the two Contracting Parties and their nationals (including juridical persons) and concerning claims between the Contracting Parties and their nationals [abridged] is settled completely and finally” and that “no contention shall be made” with respect to such claims (Article II).
However, on October 30 and November 29, 2018, the Supreme Court of the ROK gave final judgments ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation for damages to ROK nationals who were said to have worked for the companies during the Second World War. Such judgments are extremely regrettable and totally unacceptable.
These Supreme Court judgments and related judicial procedures clearly violate Article II of the Agreement on the Settlement of Problem concerning Property and Claims and on the Economic Co-operation between Japan and the Republic of Korea and inflict unjustifiable damages and costs on the Japanese companies. Above all, the judgments completely overthrow the legal foundation of the friendly and cooperative relationship that Japan and the ROK have developed since the normalization of diplomatic relations.
In January 2019, the Government of Japan requested a diplomatic consultation with the Government of the ROK pursuant to Article III-1 in order to settle this issue in accordance with the dispute settlement procedures under the Agreement. However, the Government of the ROK failed to respond to the request. Additionally, the Government of Japan gave notice to the Government of the ROK in May 2019 that it would refer the dispute to arbitration in accordance with Article III-2 of the Agreement, but, although requested to comply with this, the Government of the ROK did not fulfill its obligations regarding the arbitration procedure stipulated in the Agreement, and, as a result, the arbitration board could not be constituted.8
In the meantime, based on the plaintiffs' petitions, the ROK courts have advanced the procedures for seizing and liquidizing the assets of the Japanese companies. The Government of Japan has repeatedly emphasized to the Government of the ROK that if the seized assets of Japanese companies were to be liquidated, it would lead to an extremely serious situation for Japan-ROK relations and must be avoided at any cost, and renewed its call for the ROK to remedy the status of its breaches of international law and to urgently provide a solution that is acceptable to Japan.
The Government of Japan will continue to maintain communication through the diplomatic channel between Japan and the ROK, and will continue to strongly urge the ROK to take appropriate actions based on Japan's principled positions on issues between our two countries, including the issue of CWKs.
The below Ministry of Foreign Affairs website details Japan's Efforts on the Issue of CWKs.
- 8 See References on the issue of former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula (CWKs)
(C) The Issue of Comfort Women
As the issue of comfort women has been a major diplomatic issue in Japan-ROK relations since the 1990s, Japan has sincerely dealt with it. The issue concerning property and claims between Japan and the ROK was settled “completely and finally” in 1965 through the Agreement on the Settlement of Problem concerning Property and Claims and on the Economic Co-operation between Japan and the Republic of Korea. However, from the perspective of facilitating feasible remedies for the former comfort women, the people and the Government of Japan cooperated to establish the Asian Women's Fund in 1995, through which they carried out medical and welfare projects and provided “atonement money” to each former comfort woman in Asian and other countries, including the ROK. In addition, successive Prime Ministers have sent letters expressing their “apology and remorse” to former comfort women. The Government of Japan has made every effort as mentioned above.
Furthermore, as a result of great diplomatic efforts, the Governments of Japan and the ROK confirmed that the issue of comfort women was “resolved finally and irreversibly” with the agreement reached at the Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers' Meeting in December 2015.9 Directly after this Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers' Meeting, the Japanese and ROK leaders also confirmed that they would take responsibility as leaders to implement this agreement and that they would deal with various issues based on the spirit of this agreement, and that the Government of the ROK committed to the agreement. This agreement was welcomed by the international community, including then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.S. Government. In accordance with the agreement, in August 2016, the Government of Japan contributed 1 billion Japanese yen to “the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation” established by the Government of the ROK. As of December 31, 2020, the fund provided financial support to 35 out of 47 former comfort women who were alive at the time of the agreement, and to the bereaved families of 64 out of 199 former comfort women who were deceased at the time. The agreement has been received positively by many former comfort women.
However, in December 2016, a comfort woman statue10 was installed on the sidewalk facing the Consulate-General of Japan in Busan by a civic group in the ROK. Later, the Moon Jae-in administration was newly inaugurated in May 2017. Based on the results of the assessment made by the Taskforce to Review the Agreement on Comfort Women Issue under the direct supervision of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the ROK, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha announced the position of the Government of the ROK on January 9, 2018, as follows: i) it will not ask for a renegotiation with Japan; and ii) the 2015 agreement, which fails to properly reflect the wishes of the victims, does not constitute a true resolution of the issue. In July 2018, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family of the ROK announced that it would arrange a reserve budget to “appropriate the full amount” of the 1 billion Japanese yen contributed by the Government of Japan and contribute this amount to “the Gender Equality Fund.” In November 2018, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family announced that it would proceed with its dissolution of “the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation” and has since moved ahead with the dissolution procedures. While the Government of the ROK, including President Moon Jae-in, repeatedly stated in public that it “will not abandon the agreement” and “will not ask for a renegotiation with Japan,” the moves to dissolve the Foundation are totally unacceptable for Japan in light of the 2015 Japan-ROK Agreement. Additionally, Japan has been objecting to the ROK having mentioned this issue in such occasions as the United Nations Human Rights Council in recent years, even though the Japan-ROK Agreement confirms that the Government of Japan and the Government of the ROK will refrain from accusing or criticizing each other regarding the comfort women issue in the international community, including at the United Nations .
Moreover, on January 8, 2021, in the lawsuit filed by former comfort women and others against the Government of Japan, the Seoul Central District Court of the Republic of Korea rendered a judgment which ordered the Government of Japan, inter alia, to pay compensation to the plaintiffs, denying the application of the principle of State immunity under international law. On January 23, 2021, this judgment was confirmed.11 Japan has repeatedly expressed its position that this lawsuit must be dismissed because it is not acceptable for the Government of Japan to be subject to the jurisdiction of the ROK in accordance with this principle of State immunity in international law. As mentioned above, the issue concerning property and claims between Japan and the ROK, including the issue of comfort women, was “settled completely and finally,” with the Agreement on the Settlement of Problem concerning Property and Claims and on the Economic Co-operation between Japan and the Republic of Korea of 1965. Furthermore, it was confirmed that the issue of comfort women was “resolved finally and irreversibly” with the agreement between Japan and the ROK in 2015. Therefore, the judgment is extremely regrettable and absolutely unacceptable, as it is clearly contrary to international law and agreements between the two countries. Japan once again strongly urges the ROK to immediately take appropriate measures to remedy the status of its breaches of international law on its own responsibility as a country.
The Japan-ROK agreement in 2015 is an agreement between two countries, and it must be implemented responsibly regardless of the change of government. The ROK has a responsibility to steadily implement the agreement not only to Japan but also to the international community. As stated above, the Government of Japan has implemented all measures it committed to under the Japan-ROK agreement. The Government of the ROK itself also acknowledges that this agreement is an official agreement between the two governments and the international community is closely following the ROK's implementation of the agreement. The Government of Japan will continue to strongly urge the ROK to steadily implement the Japan-ROK Agreement. (see page 37 for the handling of the comfort women issue in the international community.)
The below Ministry of Foreign Affairs website details Japan's Efforts on the Issue of Comfort Women.
- 9 and 11 See References on the comfort women issue
- 10 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.
(D) Takeshima Dispute
Regarding the dispute between Japan and the ROK concerning the territorial sovereignty over Takeshima, Takeshima is indisputably an inherent part of the territory of Japan in light of historical facts and based on international law. The ROK has continued its illegal occupation of Takeshima with no legal basis in international law, including stationing permanent security personnel. Japan has been keeping the world informed about Japan's position on the issue through various media,12 and has repeatedly lodged strong protests against the ROK over matters such as landing on the island by South Koreans including members of the ROK's National Assembly, and the ROK's military exercises and marine researches.13 In particular, in 2020, military exercises and maritime surveys were also conducted on the island or its vicinity. The Government of Japan considers them unacceptable in view of Japan's position and lodged strong protests.
For a peaceful settlement of the Takeshima dispute, Japan proposed to the ROK that the issue be referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1954, 1962 and 2012. However, the ROK rejected the proposal in all instances. Japan is determined to continue to engage in appropriate diplomatic efforts to settle the Takeshima dispute in a peaceful manner in accordance with international law.
- 12 In February 2008, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a pamphlet entitled “Takeshima: 10 points to understand the Takeshima Dispute.” Currently, it is available on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' website in 11 languages: Japanese, English, Korean, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, Chinese and Italian. Furthermore, since October 2013, videos and flyers about Takeshima have been available on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' website, and they are currently available in the above 11 languages. In addition, Japan has taken initiatives such as distributing a smartphone app that aims to increase awareness of the Takeshima issue. Further details are available on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here: https://www.mofa.go.jp/region/asia-paci/takeshima/index.html
- 13 The ROK Armed Forces conducted military training related to Takeshima in June and December 2019. The Government of Japan immediately conveyed to the Government of the ROK that such an act was unacceptable and extremely regrettable in light of Japan's position on sovereignty over Takeshima, and strongly protested against the act.
(E) Update of Licensing Policies and Procedures on Exports of Controlled Items to the ROK
On September 11, 2019, the Government of the ROK requested bilateral consultations with Japan under the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement procedures, claiming the update by the Government of Japan of the operation of measures related to Japan's export to the ROK of three items for semiconductors (fluorinated polyimide, resist and hydrogen fluoride), and the system for requiring individual export licenses14, is in breach of the WTO Agreements. The Government of the ROK announced on November 22, 2019, that it suspended the effect of the notification of termination of the Agreement between the Government of Japan and the Government of the Republic of Korea on the Protection of Classified Military Information (GSOMIA), and in doing so said that it would also suspend its WTO dispute settlement procedures while the Japan-ROK Export Control Policy Dialogue would be held as normal. Subsequently Export Control Policy Dialogues were held in December 2019 and March 2020. Despite the fact that the export control authorities of Japan and the ROK shared the view to resolve the issue through dialogue and communication, the Government of the ROK resumed WTO dispute settlement procedures on June 18, and the WTO Dispute Settlement Body decided to establish a panel on July 29.
- 14 The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced the following updates on July 1, 2019: (1) the amendment of the Export Trade Control Order of the ROK (Note: The ROK was excluded from “Group A.” A revised Cabinet ordinance entered into force on August 28 to effect this change) and (2) switching from bulk licenses to individual export licenses for Fluorinated polyimide, Resist and Hydrogen fluoride.
(F) Exchanges and Travel
In 2018, the number of people making visits between the two countries was approximately 10.49 million people, exceeding 10 million for the first time. In 2019, however, the number was approximately 8.85 million people due to a significant decrease in the number of people visiting Japan from the ROK. Since March, travel between Japan and the ROK significantly decreased due to the strengthening of border measures related to COVID-19, and in 2020, only approximately 920,000 people made trips between the two countries. Under such circumstances and with regards to phased measures toward resuming cross-border travel, Japan and the ROK held discussions and coordinated based on decisions made by the National Security Council and by the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters on July 22, and from October 8, started the “Business Track” and “Residence Track” travel programs15 (See the Opening Special Feature on page 2). The Governments of Japan and the ROK share the view that, notwithstanding the challenging situation of the bilateral relationship, exchanges between Japan and the ROK are important. In Japan, K-POP and South Korean TV dramas, etc., are widely accepted by people of all ages, and particularly amidst the spread of COVID-19 when citizens are asked to refrain from going out, the drama “Crash Landing on You” was so popular that it was selected as a candidate for a buzzword award and sparked the fourth wave of Korean popularity. In addition, in recent years Korean cuisine has become widespread throughout Japan, and Korean cosmetics and fashion are popular mainly among young Japanese women. The major Japan-ROK grassroots exchange program “Japan-Korea Exchange Festival” (Nikkan Koryu Omatsuri) could not invite visitors because of the impacts of COVID-19, so in 2020, it was held online for the first time in both Tokyo and Seoul. The Government of Japan continues to work on promoting mutual understanding primarily between young people and building a friendly and cooperative relationship for the future through Japan's Friendship Ties Programs (JENESYS 2020), and in 2020, conducted an online exchange program for the first time.
- 15 In response to the spread of COVID-19 variants in various countries, operation has been suspended since January 14, 2021, as a new measure for border enforcement (as of the end of February, 2021).
(G) Other Issues
The Governments of Japan and the ROK concluded Agreement between the Government of Japan and the Government of the Republic of Korea on the Protection of Classified Military Information (GSOMIA) in November 2016 in order to strengthen cooperation and coordination between the two countries in the field of security and contribute to regional peace and stability. Afterwards, the agreement was automatically extended in 2017 and 2018. However, the Government of the ROK announced on August 22, 2019, its decision to terminate the GSOMIA in connection with Japan's update of licensing policies and procedures on exports (see (E)) and notified the termination on the following day, August 23. Following this and after exchanges between Japan and the ROK, on November 22, the Government of the ROK announced that it would suspend the effect of the notification of termination of August 23. In view of the current regional security environment, the Government of Japan still considers it important for the Agreement to continue operating in a stable manner.
Sea of Japan is the only internationally established name for the sea area concerned, and the UN and governments of major countries such as the U.S. adopt Sea of Japan as the official name. Objections to this name, however, were first raised by the ROK and North Korea in 1992. Since then, the ROK and North Korea have been objecting to the name at the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN),16 the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) and other international conferences. These assertions however are groundless, and Japan has firmly refuted these assertions each time they arise.17
Furthermore, Japan has made requests to the Government of the ROK through its diplomatic channels to return cultural properties that were stolen and are currently in the ROK18 to Japan as soon as possible. Japan will continue to call upon the Government of the ROK for their prompt return.
Other than these issues, Japan has provided supports and taken measures as much as possible from a humanitarian perspective in a wide range of fields, including responses for ethnic Koreans in Sakhalin,19 addressing the issue of atomic bomb survivors living in the ROK,20 and helping Hansen's disease patients admitted to sanitariums in the ROK.21
- 16 A UN conference where experts on place names and geospatial information from each country discuss, from a technical point of view, the definitions of terms related to place names and the notion methods for place names. In 2017, the UN Conferences on the Standardization of Geographical Name, which had been held every five years, and the UN Group of Experts on Geographical Names, which had been held every two years, were integrated into the United Nations Group of Experts on Place Names (UNGEGN).
- 17 Ministry of Foreign Affairs website detailing the issue of the name of the “Sea of Japan”:https://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/maritime/japan/index.html
- 18 After being stolen in Tsushima City, Nagasaki Prefecture in 2012 and shipped to the ROK, in April 2016 the Buseoksa Temple in the ROK requested that the Government of the ROK return to Buseoksa Temple the “Kanzeon Bosatsu Statue” that had been collected and stored by the Government of the ROK. The proceedings were filed in the Daejeon District Court, but in January 2017 the Court issued a verdict of the first hearing to the plaintiff's side (Buseoksa Temple). In response to this, the Government of the ROK appealed, and the matter is currently pending at the Daejeon High Court. The “Kanzeon Bosatsu Statue” is still being held by the Government of the ROK and has not been returned to Japan (as of February 2021).
- 19 For various reasons, before the end of World War II, people from the Korean Peninsula traveled to what was then known as Minami Karafuto (South Sakjalin) and were compelled to remain there for a long time after the war ended under the de facto rule of the Soviet Union, without being given the opportunity to return to the ROK. The Government of Japan is providing such people with support, such as to enable them to return home temporarily and to visit Sakhalin.
- 20 This is the issue of provision of support to those who were exposed to the atomic bombs while living in Hiroshima or Nagasaki during World War II and subsequently went to live overseas. To date, Japan has provided support in the form of the Atomic Bomb Victim Health Handbook and allowances based on the Atomic Bombs Survivors' Assistance Act.
- 21 In February 2006, the “Act on Payment of Compensation to Inmates of Hansen's Disease Sanatorium” was amended, and former residents of Hansen's disease sanitoriums outside of Japan, which were established by Japan before the end of World War II, were made eligible for compensation, similar to former residents of domestic sanatoriums. Additionally, in November 2019, the “Act on Payment of Compensation to Families of Former Patients of Hansen's Disease” was enacted, and the families of former inmates were also made eligible for compensation.
B Japan-ROK Economic Relations
The total value of trade between the two countries amounted to approximately 7.60 trillion Japanese yen in 2020. Japan is the ROK's third largest trading partner, and vice versa. The ROK's trade deficit with Japan increased by approximately 6.1% from a year earlier, reaching approximately 1.93 trillion Japanese yen (Trade Statistics of Japan, Ministry of Finance). Japanese direct investment in the ROK totaled approximately 0.73 billion US dollars (down 49.2% from the previous year) (figures published by the ROK Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy), making Japan the ROK's fifth largest source of foreign direct investment (Hong Kong and the Cayman Islands are excluded from the ranking.).
In November, 15 countries, including Japan and the ROK, signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement, which is also the first Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between Japan and the ROK.
Under WTO dispute settlement procedures, in September 2019, the WTO Appellate Body issued a report that recognized Japan's major claims in “Korea – Anti-Dumping Duties on Pneumatic Valves From Japan,” and in August 2020, the measures were abolished. For “Korea – Sunset Review of Anti-Dumping Duties on Stainless Steel Bars,” a panel released a report in November, finding that the ROK's measures were in violation of the WTO Agreements and recommended that the measures be remedied. Furthermore, in “Korea – Measures Affecting Trade in Commercial Vessels,” bilateral consultations were held in December 2018 and March 2020 based on WTO dispute settlement procedures.
C Situation in the ROK
(A) Domestic Affairs
A general election of the National Assembly of the ROK was held on April 15, prior to the Moon Jae-in administration entering its fourth year in May 2020. In the election, the ruling party gained support as a result of rapidly quelling the spread of COVID-19 in the ROK in early 2020, and the Democratic Party of the ROK won 180 out of the 300 total seats. However, the ruling party lost the mayoral seats in the ROK's two major cities with the resignation of Oh Keo-don, the mayor of Busan, in late April, and the suicide of Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul, in July respectively due to their misconducts.
Cabinet reshuffles were conducted by the Moon administration in July, December and January 2021. In the July cabinet reshuffle, President Moon Jae-in appointed Suh Hoon, who had been working on inter-Korean relations as Director of the National Intelligence Service, as the Director of the Office of National Security for the President, and carried out Ministerial personnel affairs with an emphasis on inter-Korean relations. In December, in addition to some Ministerial personnel affairs, Noh Young-Min, Chief of Staff to the President, and Kim Sang-jo, Chief of Staff for Policy, announced their resignations. In January 2021, Chung Eui-yong, the former Director of the Office of National Security for the President, was nominated to succeed Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha, and Chung Eui-yong was appointed as the Minister of Foreign Affairs in February 2021.
In January, President Moon appointed former Democratic Party of the ROK representative Choo Mi-ae as Minister of Justice in an attempt to advance prosecution reforms, but following the appointment, there was conflict between Minister Choo and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. On November 24, Minister Choo announced that she would suspend Prosecutor General Yoon's duties and advance disciplinary proceedings, then on December 15, the Disciplinary Committee decided to suspend Prosecutor General Yoon for two months. The following day, December 16, President Moon approved the decision and Minister Choo announced her resignation, but on December 24, the Seoul Administrative Court granted Prosecutor General Yoon's complaint, and suspended the decision to suspend his duties. In January 2021, the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) was established, which is an organization that investigates cases of fraud involving high-ranking officials, and investigations of cases of fraud involving high-ranking officials will now be conducted by the CIO instead of by prosecutors in the ROK.
(B) Foreign Policy
Following the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, the Government of the ROK was ahead of other countries in suppressing the outbreak through aggressive PCR testing, contact tracing, and thorough quarantine measure for infected individuals and their close contacts. This know-how was termed as “K-Quarantine,” was promoted both domestically and overseas, and efforts were made to share it with the other governments. Reciprocal visits by dignitaries between the ROK and other countries decreased due to the spread of COVID-19, but the Government of the ROK actively develops diplomacy between leaders and foreign ministers through telephone calls and teleconferences, and has created a framework for resuming travel by businesspeople with Japan, China, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Singapore and Viet Nam. In 2020, President Moon Jae-in did not make any overseas visits.
Although the Government of the ROK was making these efforts in response to the spread of COVID-19, addressing North Korea continued to be a top priority for the Moon Jae-in administration, but in June, the inter-Korean joint liaison office in Kaesong was blown up by North Korea and there were no positive movements in inter-Korean relations (see (1) C (B) for inter-Korean relations).
With regards to relations with the U.S., the U.S.-ROK Combined Forces Command training was held in August at a reduced scale due to the impacts of COVID-19. In 2019 and 2020, the U.S. and the ROK held a total of seven discussions on the 11th Special Measures Agreement (SMA) related to U.S. forces stationing expenses after 2020, but negotiations did not come to a conclusion during 2020, partly due to the U.S. requesting an increase in the ROK's burden. In addition, following the victory of former Vice President Joe Biden in the U.S. presidential election, a telephone call between President Moon and President-elect Joe Biden was held on November 12. After the inauguration of President Biden, a U.S.-ROK Summit telephone call was held on February 4, 2021.
With regards to relations with China, the Governments of the ROK and China coordinated a visit by President Xi Jinping to the ROK, but it was not realized during 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19. In August, Yang Jiechi, a Member of the Central Politburo of the Communist Party of China, and in November, Wang Yi, a State Councilor and Foreign Minister, visited the ROK. A China-ROK Summit telephone call was held on January 26, 2021, and the two leaders declared that the two-year period of 2021 and 2022, the 30th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and the ROK, will be “Years of cultural exchange between China and the ROK.”
In 2020, the GDP growth rate in Korea was impacted by the spread of COVID-19 and was -1.0%, showing a decrease from 2.0% of the previous year. The total amount of exports decreased 5.4% year-on-year to approximately 512.9 billion US dollars, while the total amount of imports decreased 7.2% year-on-year to approximately 467.2 billion US dollars, resulting in a trade surplus of approximately 45.6 billion US dollars (figures published by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy).
As for domestic economic policies, the Moon Jae-in administration inaugurated in May 2017 has stressed the importance of “income-led growth” and “an employment-centered economy” revolving around people, and has significantly increased the minimum wage for two consecutive years since 2018. However, such sharp rises drew growing criticisms for causing job losses, and in August 2020 the administration announced that the minimum wage in 2021 would be 8,720 won (up 1.5% year-on-year).
In recent years, the ROK has had a rapidly declining birthrate and aging population. In 2020, the total fertility rate was a record low of 0.84 children per woman, making the declining birthrate issue all the more serious.
The Moon Jae-in administration has implemented policies to curb real estate investment, but due to excessive demand associated with speculative home purchases by owners of multiple homes, condominium prices in Seoul have risen by approximately 50% in the three years since the administration was inaugurated. Real estate prices continue to rise, and addressing this has become one of the most important issues for the administration.
In order to lead changes in the world after the spread of COVID-19, in July, the Government of the ROK announced a comprehensive plan for a Korean version of the New Deal as a national development strategy, centered on strengthening the Digital New Deal, the Green New Deal and the employment safety net.