Diplomatic Bluebook 2022
Japan's Foreign Policy by Region
3 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. In 2021, North Korea launched ballistic missiles three times, including the one which fell within Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and in September, North Korea announced that it had launched the hypersonic missile “Hwasong-8” using ballistic missile technologies and that it also launched “new long-range cruise missiles.” Since the beginning of 2022, North Korea has repeatedly launched ballistic missiles with an unprecedented frequency and in new ways, and on February 27 and March 5, North Korea launched intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) although not at their maximum range. Furthermore, on March 24, North Korea launched an alleged new-ICBM, which is estimated to have fallen within Japan's EEZ about 150 kilometers off Japan's mainland. North Korea's series of actions, including such launches of ballistic missiles that further aggravate this situation, threaten the peace and security of Japan, the region, and the international community, and are totally unacceptable. Japan will continue to fully implement relevant UN Security Council resolutions and aim for the denuclearization of North Korea, coordinating closely with the U.S. and the ROK while cooperating with the international community. 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)14 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.
- 14 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
(A) Recent Trends in 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.
The 8th Congress of the Workers Party of Korea (WPK) was held from January 5 to 12, 2021. It was reported that Chairman of the State Affairs Commission Kim Jong Un, in addition to stating that defense capability must be constantly strengthened as long as the danger of a war of aggression continues, also referred to nuclear weapons that are smaller and lighter, that have multiple warheads, and to the development and possession of nuclear submarines, hypersonic weapons, and military reconnaissance satellites. Additionally, “Self-Defense-2021” Defense Development Exhibition that opened in Pyongyang on October 11, 2021 featured a variety of weapons and combat technology equipment that was said to have been developed and produced during the last five years. It was also reported that the exhibition displayed possible new ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) that appeared at the military parade for the 75th anniversary of the founding of the WPK in October 2020 and at the military parade for the 8th Congress of the WPK in January 2021.
North Korea launched ballistic missiles called “new tactical guided missile” by North Korea on March 25, 2021, and then it announced that it had launched “new long-range cruise missiles” on September 11 and 12. Then, North Korea launched short-range ballistic missiles as a training exercise by the “Railway Mobile Missile Regiment” on September 15, the hypersonic missile “Hwasong-8” using ballistic missile technologies on September 28, and another ballistic missile called “new submarine-launched ballistic missile” on October 19. Some of these missiles have the characteristic of flying on irregular trajectories, and the short-range ballistic missiles on September 15 fell in Japan's EEZ.
Since the beginning of 2022, North Korea has repeatedly launched missiles with an unprecedented frequency and in new ways. On January 5 and 11, North Korea launched ballistic missiles called “hypersonic missiles” and it was reported that Chairman Kim was present at the launch on January 11. In addition, North Korea launched ballistic missiles as “a firing drill for checking and judging the proficiency in the action procedures of the railway-borne missile regiment of North Phyongan Province” on January 14, and on January 17 and 27 it successively launched ballistic missiles called “tactical guided missiles” by North Korea. On January 25, it also announced that it had launched “long-range cruise missiles.” On January 30, North Korea launched what appeared to be an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) “Hwasong-12”, and then on February 27 and March 5 it launched an ICBM for what they claimed as an important test for developing a “reconnaissance satellite.” Although these were not at the maximum range of ICBMs (both missiles had a flight range of approximately 300 kilometers), it is possible that the launches were conducted for the purpose of verifying some functions before launching them at their maximum range.
Furthermore, approximately one week after the launch on March 16 in which the ballistic missile was assumed to have not flown successfully, on March 24 North Korea launched an alleged new ICBM. It was estimated that this missile had a flight distance of approximately 1,100 kilometers, a maximum altitude that exceeded 6,000 kilometers, and that it fell into Japan's EEZ, approximately 150 kilometers west of the Oshima Peninsula in Hokkaido. At the time of the launch, North Korea referred to the missile as “Hwasong-17,” and it was reported that Chairman Kim, who directly supervised the entire launch test process, stated that the weapon system for the missile of this launch “will creditably perform its mission and duty as a powerful nuclear war deterrent” and that North Korea “will possess formidable military and technical capabilities and keep themselves fully ready for long-standing confrontation with the U.S. imperialists.”
Prior to this, on January 19, “the orientation for countermeasures against the U.S. for the future” was discussed under Chairman Kim at the 6th Political Bureau Meeting of the 8th Central Committee of WPK, and it was reported that the meeting assessed that “the hostile policy and military threat by the U.S. have reached a danger line that cannot be overlooked any more” and “gave an instruction to a sector concerned to promptly examine the issue of restarting all temporarily-suspended activities.”
As for North Korea's nuclear activities, the IAEA Director General's report in August 2021 pointed out that there were new signs that North Korea's nuclear facilities were in operation.
(B) Initiatives by Japan and Cooperation with the International Community
The repeated launches of ballistic missiles and others by North Korea are serious challenges not only to Japan, but also to the international community, and are completely 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. Japan has confirmed these points at meetings with the leaders and foreign ministers of various countries.
Recognizing that coordination among Japan, the U.S., and the ROK is essential for regional peace and stability beyond issues related to North Korea, Japan, the U.S., and the ROK have been enhancing coordination at multiple levels through holding summit meetings, foreign ministers' meetings, vice foreign ministerial meetings, and the heads of delegation meetings of the Six-Party Talks. On May 5, 2021, the Japan-U.S.-ROK Foreign Ministers' Meeting was held in the UK (London) on the occasion of the G7 Foreign Ministers' Meeting, and the three Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the complete denuclearization of North Korea, agreed to call on North Korea to comply with its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions, and agreed that Japan, the U.S., and the ROK would closely work together on policies toward North Korea. In addition, on September 22, a Japan-U.S.-ROK Foreign Ministers' Meeting was held in the U.S. (New York) on the occasion of the UN General Assembly, where the three Ministers agreed to further advance collaboration between Japan, the U.S., and the ROK toward the complete denuclearization of North Korea, exchanged views on regional situations and global issues, and agreed to further deepen coordination and cooperation among Japan, the U.S., and the ROK. On February 12, 2022, a Japan-U.S.-ROK Foreign Ministers' Meeting was held in the U.S. (Honolulu) and the three Ministers shared serious concerns about North Korea's repeated launches of ballistic missiles and aligned their recognition on future measures. The three Ministers also exchanged views on regional situations which included the discussions on China and situation around Ukraine, and efforts to realize a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.” In addition, they discussed global issues such as global health and climate change. They concurred that Japan, the U.S., and the ROK would further deepen their collaboration and cooperation. After the meeting, a Joint Statement on the Japan-U.S.-ROK Trilateral Ministerial Meeting was released.
As part of the Japan Coast Guard's patrolling activities and the Self-Defense Forces' monitoring and surveillance activities, Japan has also 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, New Zealand, and France, in addition to U.S. aircraft, have used U.S. military facilities and areas in Japan to engage in monitoring and surveillance activities against illicit maritime activities, including ship-to-ship transfers. 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 French Navy frigates FS PRAIRIAL and FS SURCOUF and amphibious assault ship FS TONNERRE, the Royal Australian Navy frigates HMAS BALLARAT and HMAS WARRAMUNGA, the Royal Canadian Navy frigate WINNIPEG, the UK Royal Navy frigate RICHMOND, and the German Navy frigate BAYERN. From the perspective of further deepening the multinational cooperation, Japan considers it significant that concerned countries 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, despite the families of the victims having reached an advanced age, the Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea continues to work toward the resolution of this problem with a determination to “never give up,” under its new representative.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 2022, Prime Minister Kishida gave a policy speech where he stated that “The abductions issue is one of the highest priority issues of the Kishida administration. Working in cooperation with other countries, I will do everything in my power to realize the return of all the abductees to Japan at the earliest possible date, making use of every possible opportunity. I am determined to meet with Chairman Kim myself face to face, without any conditions.”
(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 abductees 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 2021, Prime Minister Suga addressed the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, declaring that “Establishing a constructive relationship between Japan and North Korea will not only serve the interests of both sides but also 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-Australia-India-U.S. Summit Meeting, 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. Additionally, during the Japan-U.S. Summit Video Teleconference Meeting in January 2022, Prime Minister Kishida asked for continued understanding and cooperation toward the immediate resolution of the abductions issue, to which President Biden offered his renewed 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 October 2021, Prime Minister Kishida raised to President Xi the issue of North Korea, including the abductions issue, and they confirmed that Japan and China would continue to cooperate with each other. The ROK has also 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 October 2021 Japan-ROK Summit telephone call, Prime Minister Kishida asked for continued support and cooperation on the abductions issue. In response, President Moon Jae-in expressed his support for Japan's position on the abductions issue, and the two leaders once again agreed on the importance of Japan-ROK and Japan-U.S.-ROK cooperation. At the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 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. Furthermore, 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 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 immediate 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 and 2021 no concrete progress was made in dialogues between the U.S. and North Korea.
President Biden completed the North Korea policy review in April 2021. Through the review, the U.S. has made it clear that its goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and that it is stepping up its efforts to ensure the security of its allies, including Japan. At a joint press conference after the U.S.-ROK Summit Meeting on May 21, President Biden said that “if he made any commitment, then I would meet with him.” The U.S. has also stated on various occasions that the U.S. has no hostile intentions toward North Korea and that it is prepared to meet with North Korea without any preconditions.
On the other hand, it was reported that Chairman Kim said in his speech at the 5th Session of the 14th Supreme People's Assembly in September that “the U.S. remain utterly unchanged in posing military threats and pursuing hostile policy toward the DPRK, and the U.S. is touting “diplomatic engagement” and “dialogue without preconditions” but it is no more than a petty trick for deceiving the international community and hiding its hostile acts.”
In January 2022, in response to a series of provocations by North Korea which included the launch of ballistic missiles, the U.S. additionally designated one group and seven individuals as subjects of its own sanctions (asset freeze) for their involvement in the development and spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Additionally, in January at the 6th Political Bureau Meeting of the 8th Central Committee of WPK that was held under Chairman Kim, “the orientation for countermeasures against responding to the U.S.” was discussed, and it was reported that the meeting assessed that “the hostile policy and military threat by the U.S. have reached a danger line that cannot be overlooked any more” and “gave an instruction to a sector concerned to promptly examine the issue of restarting all temporarily-suspended activities.”
(B) Inter-Korean Relations
In 2018 there were great strides in inter-Korean relations, with three inter-Korean Summit Meetings, but, continuing on from 2019 and 2020, there were no positive developments in inter-Korean relations in 2021. In a summary report on activities conducted at the 8th Congress of the WPK in January, it was reported that Chairman Kim stated that “inter-Korean relations have been brought back to the time before the publication of the Panmunjom Declaration (signed at the Inter-Korean Summit Meeting in April 2018),” while also adding that, “Depending on the south Korean authorities' attitude, the north–south relations may return to a new starting point of peace and prosperity in the near future.” President Moon Jae-in, at a New Year's press conference six days after the Congress of the WPK was held, stated that “A summit meeting (between the leaders of North Korea and the ROK) is possible anytime, anywhere, as long as it is beneficial to the development of inter-Korean relations,” and showed a positive attitude toward inter-Korean cooperation, including humanitarian cooperation. On July 27, the ROK Government and North Korea each announced that, as a result of exchanges through letters of friendship between the leaders of the two Koreas since April, they had agreed to restore the inter-Korean communication line and that communication had resumed. The inter-Korean communication line was then restored on July 27, but from August 10 the North Korean side ceased responding. In his speech at the UN General Assembly in September, President Moon Jae-in noted that 2021 will mark the 30th anniversary of the simultaneous admission of both Koreas to the United Nations, and stated that “Today, I once again urge the community of nations to mobilize its strengths for the end-of-war declaration on the Korean Peninsula and propose that three parties of the two Koreas and the US, or four parties of the two Koreas, the US, and China come together and declare that the War on the Korean Peninsula is over.” In response to this, Chairman Kim reportedly said in his policy speech before the Supreme People's Assembly on September 30 that “It is the invariable demand repeatedly explained by us to ensure the respect for each other and withdraw the partial view, unfair and double-dealing attitude, and hostile viewpoint and policies towards the other side before declaring the termination of war.” In the same speech, Chairman Kim expressed his intention to restore the inter-Korean communication line, which had been disrupted since August, and the inter-Korean communication line was restored on October 4. Furthermore, in his commemorative speech given on October 11 at Defense Development Exhibition “Self-Defense-2021,” it was reported that Chairman Kim said “If South Korea does not find fault with us in a stubborn manner and, if it does not pick a quarrel even with our exercise of national sovereignty, I assure that no tension will be caused on the Korean Peninsula” and that “Our arch-enemy is the war itself, not south Korea, the U.S., or any other specific state or forces.”
(C) China-North Korea and Russia-North Korea Relations
Since 2020, due to the spread of COVID-19, there was no travel by dignitaries between China and North Korea or between Russia and North Korea as before, but, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in July and of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the China-DPRK Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, Chairman Kim and President Xi Jinping exchanged congratulatory messages.
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 global spread of COVID-19, however, on January 17, 2022, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China said that, through friendly consultations between China and North Korea, the cross-border rail freight between Dandong, China and Sinuiju, North Korea had resumed.
(D) Other Issues
In 2021, a total of 18 drifting or wrecked wooden vessels presumed to be from North Korea were discovered (77 in 2020). The Government of Japan continues its effort to gather and analyze information, with great interest on relevant developments. In September 2020, a vessel that appeared to be an official North Korean vessel in Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the west of the Yamatotai bank in the Sea of Japan was confirmed, and when this incident occurred 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 of the WPK, 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, while emphasizing “people-first politics,” at the Congress of the WPK Chairman Kim gave an activity summary of achievements/reflections on the past five years and of future issues and mentioned the continuation of nuclear and missile development, external relations such as U.S.-North Korea relations, and inter-Korean relations. 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. Afterwards, bearing in mind the implementation of the decisions of the 8th Congress of the WPK, Chairman Kim continued his proactive activities, such as holding a Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee of WPK, Short Course for Chief Secretaries of City and County Party Committees, and a Conference of Cell Secretaries of the WPK.
In September, the 5th Session of the 14th Supreme People's Assembly was convened, and it was reported that Chairman Kim gave a policy speech for the first time since 2019, mentioning economic development, strengthening “national” defense capabilities, U.S.-North Korea relations, and inter-Korean relations. It was also reported that personnel matters for the State Affairs Commission were carried out, such as Kim Yo Jong's election as a member of the State Affairs Commission.
In December, the 4th Plenary Meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the WPK was held for five days, and it was reported that Chairman Kim, while describing 2021 as a “year of great victory” despite “severe trials,” also mentioned the economy, emergency anti-epidemic projects, and the strengthening of “national” defense capabilities as challenges for 2022.
China accounts for the largest trade amount in North Korea's foreign trade, but since 2020 the scale of China-North Korea trade has plummeted due to the impact of traffic restrictions following the global spread of COVID-19. 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) centered around self-reliance and self-sufficiency was presented. Regarding the situation in North Korea, it was reported that Chairman Kim mentioned the “decision to wage another more difficult Arduous March” (April, Conference of Cell Secretaries of the WPK), and also described it as “the unprecedented difficulties” (October, a lecture to commemorate the 76th founding anniversary of the WPK).
The 4th Plenary Meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the WPK was held from December 27 to 31, 2021, and it was reported that Chairman Kim stated that the economic sector, which is the main front of socialist construction, should concentrate all its efforts on putting the “country's” economy on the growth orbit and providing the stabilized and improved living to the people by reenergizing the production as one of the tasks for 2022. Against this backdrop, on January 17, 2022, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China said that, through friendly consultations between China and North Korea, the cross-border rail freight between Dandong, China and Sinuiju, North Korea had resumed.
(C) Response to COVID-19
North Korea has strengthened its epidemic prevention measures following the worldwide spread of COVID-19 since 2020. At the 8th Congress of the WPK in January 2021, it was reported that Chairman Kim stated that “anti-epidemic basis for coping with whatever world health crisis should be created,” and that he continued to emphasize the need to thoroughly implement and strengthen measures to prevent the spread of infection. At the 7th National Conference of War Veterans on July 27, it was reported that Chairman Kim said, “the difficulties and obstacles caused by the world health crisis and the protracted blockade are no less harsh for us than those in the wartime situation.” Furthermore, at the Third Enlarged Meeting of the Political Bureau of the 8th Central Committee of the WPK on September 2, it was reported that Chairman Kim stated that “The dangerous situation of the worldwide pandemic which keeps spiraling out of control demands tighter nationwide epidemic prevention,” emphasizing that “All the Party organizations and officials should re-examine the state anti-epidemic system and the work in this field, and conduct an intense political offensive to strain and awaken the epidemic prevention front once again.” The 4th Plenary Meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the WPK was held from December 27 to 31, 2021, and it was reported that, for one of the tasks for 2022, Chairman Kim stated that “the emergency epidemic prevention work should be made a top priority in the state work and it is the most important work to be powerfully conducted with no allowance given to slight slackness, pores and drawback.” As of February 2022, North Korea claims that no COVID-19 infections within North Korea have occurred.
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 2021, situations unacceptable to Japan have continued, including the issue of former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula (CWKs), the issue of comfort women, and the Takeshima dispute.
Under these circumstances, at the Japan-ROK Summit telephone call held on the occasion of the inauguration of Prime Minister Kishida in October, Prime Minister Kishida told President Moon Jae-in that Japan-ROK relations remain in an extremely difficult situation due to issues such as the issue of former CWKs and the issue of comfort women, and strongly urged the ROK to take appropriate actions based on Japan's principled positions on these issues. Prime Minister Kishida also stated that, under the harsh security environment in the region, it is essential to further deepen Japan-ROK and Japan-U.S.-ROK cooperation, such as in dealing with North Korea, and asked for continued support and cooperation on the abductions issue.
Additionally, amidst the travel of dignitaries between Japan and the ROK being 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), two consultations between Vice Ministers of Japan and ROK, and Japan-ROK Director-General-level consultations on multiple occasions.
(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 World War II.
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. Such judgments are extremely regrettable and totally unacceptable.
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 15.
In the meantime, based on the plaintiffs' petitions, the ROK courts have steadily advanced the procedures for seizing and liquidating the assets of the Japanese companies, including September 27 and December 30, 2021 orders to sell the assets of Japanese corporations (special liquidation orders). 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 a serious situation for Japan-ROK relations and must be avoided, and renewed its call for the ROK to urgently provide a solution that is acceptable to Japan, including remedying the status of its breaches of international law.
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 the two countries, including the issue of CWKs.
The below Ministry of Foreign Affairs website details Japan's Efforts on the Issue of CWKs.
- 15 See References on the Issue of Former Civilian Workers from the Korean Peninsula (CWKs)
(C) The Issue of Comfort Women
Japan has sincerely dealt with the issue of comfort women as it has been a major diplomatic issue in Japan-ROK relations since the 1990s. 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. 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, 2021, 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 statue16 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 at 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 refrains 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.17 On April 21, in a similar lawsuit filed by former comfort women and others, the Seoul Central District Court dismissed the case, taking into account the principle of State immunity under international law, but on May 6, the plaintiffs appealed against the court's decision. 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 abiding by promises made between two countries is the foundation of bilateral relations. 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 35 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.
- 16 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.
- 17 See References on the Issue of Comfort Women
(D) Takeshima Dispute
Regarding the dispute between Japan and the ROK concerning the territorial sovereignty over Takeshima, Takeshima is indisputably an inherent territory of Japan both 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,18 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.19 In particular, in 2021, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries of the ROK begun to release real-time images of Takeshima on its website, members of the National Assembly of the ROK and the Commissioner General of the Korean National Police Agency landed on Takeshima, and military exercises and maritime surveys were also conducted on the island or its vicinity. The Government of Japan considers these activities 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.
- 18 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
- 19 In August 2021, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries of the ROK begun to release real-time images of Takeshima on its website. Also, in August, Representative Hong Suk-joon of the People Power Party landed on Takeshima and Commissioner General Kim Chang-ryong of the Korean National Police Agency did so in November. Furthermore, the ROK armed forces conducted military training related to Takeshima in June and December 2021. 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 licenses,20 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, 2020, and the WTO Dispute Settlement Body decided to establish a panel on July 29, 2020.
- 20 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, but since March 2020, travel between Japan and the ROK significantly decreased due to the strengthening of border measures related to COVID-19, and in 2021, only approximately 30,000 people made trips between the two countries. Under such circumstances and with regard to phased measures toward resuming cross-border travel from October 8, 2020, the “Business Track” and “Residence Track” travel programs were started with the ROK, but, due to the spread of COVID-19 variants in Japan and overseas, the operation of these two tracks was suspended after January 14, 2021. Following this, since November 8, 2021 the restrictions on post-entry activities for vaccinated individuals and new entry restrictions for foreign nationals were relaxed under certain conditions, and, although new entry into Japan from the ROK resumed for business persons and foreign students, the measures were suspended after November 30 due to the tightening of cross-border measures against the Omicron variant.
The Governments of Japan and the ROK share the view that, notwithstanding the challenging situation of the bilateral relations, exchanges between Japan and the ROK are important. In Japan, K-POP and related content is widely accepted, mainly among younger generations, and, particularly amidst the impacts of COVID-19 when citizens were asked to refrain from going out, Korean dramas and movies became widely popular amongst people of all ages. For the second consecutive year during the COVID-19 pandemic, the major Japan-ROK grassroots exchange program “Japan-Korea Exchange Festival” (Nikkan Koryu Omatsuri) was held online 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 2021), and all exchange programs in 2021 were conducted online.
(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),21 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.22
Furthermore, Japan has strongly requested the Government of the ROK through its diplomatic channels to return cultural properties that were stolen and are currently in the ROK23 to Japan as soon as possible, and Japan will continue to call on the ROK to take appropriate actions.
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,24 addressing the issue of atomic bomb survivors living in the ROK,25 and helping Hansen's disease patients admitted to sanitariums in the ROK.26
- 21 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).
- 22 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
- 23 After being stolen in Tsushima City, Nagasaki Prefecture in 2012 and shipped to the ROK, the “Kanzeon Bosatsu Statue” was collected and stored by the Government of the ROK. A Korean temple asserting ownership of the statue has filed a claim with the Daejeon District Court seeking to have the Government of the ROK hand over the statue, and in January 2017 the court issued a verdict of the first hearing to the plaintiff's side (the Korean 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 the end of January 2022).
- 24 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.
- 25 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.
- 26 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 sanatoriums 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 9.30 trillion Japanese yen in 2021. Japan is the ROK's third largest trading partner, and the ROK is Japan's fourth largest trading partner. The ROK's trade deficit with Japan increased by approximately 16.9% from a year earlier, reaching approximately 2.25 trillion Japanese yen (Trade Statistics of Japan, Ministry of Finance). Japanese direct investment in the ROK totaled approximately 1.21 billion US dollars (up 52.8% from the previous year) (figures published by the ROK Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy), making Japan the ROK's sixth largest source of foreign direct investment.
In November 2020, 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. On December 3, 2021, the ROK deposited the ratification of the agreement with the depositary, the Secretary-General of ASEAN, and for the ROK the agreement entered into force on February 1, 2022.
Under WTO dispute settlement procedures, in November 2020 a panel found that the ROK's measures in “Korea – Sunset Review of Anti-Dumping Duties on Stainless Steel Bars” were in violation of the WTO Agreements and recommended that the measures be remedied, but in January 2021 the ROK filed a complaint with the WTO Appellate Body. Furthermore, in “Korea – Measures Affecting Trade in Commercial Vessels,” bilateral consultations were requested in November 2018 and held in December 2018 (Subsequently, another round of consultations was requested to cover new support measures in the ROK, and they were held in March 2020.).
As for import restrictions on Japanese food products by the Government of the ROK, Japan is taking various opportunities to urge the ROK to remove the restrictions as soon as possible.
C Situation in the ROK
(A) Domestic Affairs
President Moon Jae-in, continuing from 2020, focused on the domestic policy response to COVID-19, including emphasizing the path toward recovery, inclusiveness, and a leap forward in his special speech on May 10, 2021 marking the start of his fifth year in office. In April a portion of the Cabinet was reshuffled, including the appointment of Kim Boo-kyum, the former Minister of the Interior and Safety, as Prime Minister.
On April 7, mayoral special elections were held for the vacant mayoral offices of Seoul and Busan, two of the ROK's major cities, both of which were won by candidates from the largest opposition party, the People's Power Party. Prior to the special elections, soaring housing prices had become a social problem, particularly in large metropolitan areas such as Seoul. The victory of the opposition candidates is believed to have been due in part to a deterioration in public opinion toward the ruling party as a result of a real estate speculation scandal that involved employees at the Korea Land and Housing Corporation (LH).
In anticipation of the next presidential election, preliminary elections of each political party were held in the latter half of 2021 in the ROK. On October 10, the ruling Democratic Party elected Lee Jae-myung, then Governor of Gyeonggi province, as the party's presidential candidate. On November 5 the People's Power Party, the largest opposition party, elected former prosecutor general Yoon Seok-youl as its presidential candidate. In opposition to the Moon administration's policies of prosecutorial reform, former prosecutor general Yoon resigned as prosecutor general on March 4 and joined the People's Power Party, the largest opposition party, on July 30. Voting for the presidential election was held on March 9, 2022, and former prosecutor general Yoon was elected. Preparations were made for the transition from the Moon administration, and former prosecutor Yoon is scheduled to assume the office of President on May 10, 2022 as the 20th President of the ROK.
Former President Roh Tae-woo passed away on October 26, 2021, and former President Chun Doo-hwan passed away on November 23, 2021.
(B) Foreign Policy
As vaccinations against COVID-19 began in earnest around the world in early 2021, the Government of the ROK actively engaged in so-called “vaccine diplomacy.” With vaccine swap agreements signed with the UK, Israel, and Romania, the Government of the ROK sought to use these as an opportunity to strengthen bilateral relations.
In parallel with these diplomatic initiatives that look toward the “post-COVID-19 era,” relations with North Korea continued to be the most important issue for the Moon Jae-in administration. In an address to the UN General Assembly in September, President Moon Jae-in actively called for dialogue with North Korea, including a proposal for a “declaration to ending the War on the Korean Peninsula,” but no progress was made in inter-Korean relations (see Inter-Korean relations in section C(B)).
As for relations with the U.S., President Moon Jae-in visited the U.S in May, and held the first U.S.-ROK Summit Meeting with President Biden. At the summit meeting, the two leaders agreed to reaffirm their shared commitment to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and to end the U.S.-ROK “Missile Guidelines,” and they also agreed to establish the KORUS Global Vaccine Partnership to combat COVID-19. Additionally, U.S.-ROK Combined Command Post Training was conducted in March and August on a reduced scale due to the impacts of COVID-19. In 2021, following on from 2019 and 2020, the U.S. and ROK held two rounds of discussions for the 11th Special Measures Agreement (SMA) regarding the cost of stationing U.S. forces in the ROK after 2020, and in March 2021 the two countries agreed to a multi-year agreement with an effective period of six years (from 2020 to 2025).
With regard to relations with China, in April Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong visited China for the first time since taking office and held a meeting at China-ROK Foreign Ministers' Meeting with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. In September, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited the ROK and a Foreign Ministers' Meeting was held again. At both meetings, the two countries reaffirmed their commitment to realizing the denuclearization of North Korea, and also agreed to promote the realization of Foreign and Defense Ministerial Meeting (2+2). However, President Xi Jinping's visit to the ROK, which both China and the ROK had coordinated, did not take place in 2021.
In 2021, the GDP growth rate in Korea was 4.0% due to strong exports and private consumption, turning positive from the previous year when it fell to negative 0.9% due to impacts from the spread of COVID-19. The total amount of exports increased by 25.8% year on year to approximately 644.5 billion US dollars, while the total amount of imports increased by 31.5% year on year to approximately 615.0 billion US dollars, resulting in a trade surplus of approximately 29.5 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, amidst such sharp rises drawing increased criticisms for causing job losses, in August 2021 the administration announced that the minimum wage in 2022 would be 9,160 won (up 5.1% year on year).
In recent years, the ROK has had a rapidly declining birthrate and aging population. In 2021, the total fertility rate was a record low of 0.81 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 70% in the four 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 May, the Government of the ROK launched the “K-Semiconductor Strategy,” which includes a variety of tax supports, tax credits, and human resource development, as a strategy aimed at building a stable domestic supply chain amidst the ongoing worldwide semiconductor supply shortages. Furthermore, in July the “K-Battery Development Strategy” was announced as a strategy to lead the global market amidst the remarkable growth of the battery industry in the ROK.