East Asia Digest by Ambassador Gautam Bambawale | August 2022

I Overview

China:

  • Chinese PLA undertakes aggressive exercises in Taiwan Strait post Nancy Pelosi visit
  • China’s Politburo Meets Without Setting a National Growth Target
  • EAM reiterates that India – China ties experiencing “extremely difficult phase”

Japan:

  • PM Kishida signals a key shift in Japan’s approach to nuclear energy
  • Japan to stop pre-arrival testing for vaccinated travelers from 7 September
  • Japan to establish an expert panel on financing the rise in defence costs
  • Tokyo International Conference on African Development to be held in Tunisia
  • Japanese Media speculates that PM Modi will attend former PM Abe’s State Funeral in Tokyo on 27 September

South Korea:

  • South Korea – China mark 30 years of diplomatic relations
  • Won weakens further against US Dollar
  • South Korea and the US hold biggest joint military drills since 2018

North Korea: 

  • North Korea slams South Korean President’s Offer of Aid for Denuclearization

Taiwan:

  • Taiwan reacts in a measured manner to China’s military exercises in the Taiwan Strait
  • Taiwan raises defence budget by 15 per cent

II Developments in China

Chinese PLA undertakes aggressive exercises in Taiwan Strait post Nancy Pelosi visit 

China went ballistic after a visit to Taiwan by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi who became the highest ranking US leader to visit the island in over 20 years. China had threatened to undertake large scale military exercises if the visit went ahead. Once it did, the Chinese PLA undertook week-long aggressive exercises in the Taiwan Strait. They were described by Taipei as practice for an invasion. Four days of live fire exercises – including missiles which flew over the island landing in the EEZ of Japan were followed by anti-submarine attacks and sea raid rehearsals as part of Beijing’s furious response. Once again, Chinese authorities have refused to rule out use of force to reunify Taiwan with the Mainland. In a new White Paper issued immediately after the military exercises, Beijing reiterated that it would be forced to take drastic measures to respond to the provocations of separatists on Taiwan (meaning the DPP government of President Tsai Ying-wen). Life in Taipei was reported to be normal as ordinary Taiwanese responded with grit and determination to Beijing’s fulminations. 

China’s Politburo Meets Without Setting a National Growth Target 

China’s Politburo met in end July 2022 without setting or repeating a national target for GDP growth for 2022. Its outcome document merely stated that the country should achieve “the best outcome” for economic growth this year while sticking to a Covid Zero policy. An earlier target of 5.5% is obviously not achievable this year and the Chinese leadership is downplaying the importance of setting and achieving a target. Economists predict that China’s GDP will grow a mere 3.5% in 2022. Use of aggressive stimulus packages has also not been favourably looked upon by the Politburo. 

EAM reiterates that India – China ties experiencing “extremely difficult phase” 

In remarks in different countries that he has visited recently including Thailand as well as Brazil, External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar highlighted that India – China ties are going through an “extremely difficult phase” as a result of China’s shenanigans on the border which have violated pacts with India aimed at maintaining peace and tranquility. Speaking about there being no possibility of an “Asian Century” without both China and India growing fast, EAM highlighted that the actions of the PLA in eastern Ladakh since summer 2020 and which continue till date have vitiated the atmosphere of India – China relations. While India continues to highlight that there can be no forward movement in the relationship without peace on the border; China sticks to its position that border affairs and the rest of the relationship must be kept separate and compartmentalized.

III Developments in Japan

PM Kishida signals a key shift in Japan’s approach to nuclear energy 

On 24 August 2022 Japanese PM Kishida announced that his government would restart some more idle nuclear power plants and also look into the possibility of developing next-gen reactors. The announcement signals a key shift in Japan’s approach to civil nuclear power in the post-Fukushima (2011) period. Japan is a big importer of energy but is also looking at having more options in a global situation of uncertainty in energy markets. Japan’s attitude towards nuclear energy has always been ambiguous as it is short of local energy sources but is also the only country to have been impacted by the use of nuclear weapons. 

Japan to stop pre-arrival testing for vaccinated travelers from 7 September 

In a move which will boost both business as well as tourist travel in to Japan, the government announced that it will stop insisting on pre-arrival testing of vaccinated visitors to the country with effect from 7 September 2022. Japan will also revise the daily arrival cap currently at 20,000 foreign visitors. It has not yet announced a new cap. Meanwhile, Japan has also eased travel alerts for 54 countries. 

Japan to establish an expert panel on financing the rise in defence costs 

The Japanese government has announced it would be setting up a panel of experts to study how to raise defence spending from the current level of resource mobilization of the nation. The panel is likely to hold 4 meetings commencing September this year. The panel is tasked with providing suggestions and inputs to the government on how it can balance enhancing defence spending with maintaining fiscal discipline. 

Tokyo International Conference on African Development to be held in Tunisia

The Tokyo International Conference on African Development will be held in Tunisia soon and is expected to be attended by PM Kishida. He is expected to announce investment in human capital to promote Africa’s growth. The plan will foster the talents of about 300,000 people over a period of 3 years. By doing so, Japan is intending to exhibit the difference of its approach to Africa’s development from that of China which focuses on hard infrastructure development but also brings in to the continent its own labour and expertise. Tokyo will be showing that it aims to enhance Africa’s own capabilities so that its own people will get employment. 

Japanese Media speculates that PM Modi will attend former PM Abe’s State Funeral in Tokyo on 27 September 

The Japanese media has reported that PM Modi will attend former Japanese PM Abe’s state funeral in Tokyo on 27 September 2022. There is no announcement to this effect from the Government of India. However, it is likely that this reportage is true given the close relationship between the two which had transformed India – Japan ties.

IV Developments in South Korea

South Korea – China mark 30 years of diplomatic relations 

On 24 August 2022 South Korea and China marked the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations. Bilateral trade crossed US $ 300 billion as compared to US $ 6.4 billion in 1992 the year they established ties. However, the ever rising competition between the United States and China is also influencing and impacting China’s relations with South Korea.

Won weakens further against US Dollar 

The Won weakened further against the US Dollar to hit 1345.5 Won per Dollar on 23 August, a fresh 13-year low for the South Korean currency. South Korea has experienced 4 straight months of trade deficits. 

South Korea and the US hold biggest joint military drills since 2018 

South Korea and the United States commenced their largest joint military exercises on 22 August called Ulchi Freedom Shield. They have angered Pyongyang which is expected to react with more nuclear and missile tests. However, the joint exercises also show that the alliance between the two nations remains strong and vigilant.

V Developments in North Korea

North Korea slams South Korean President’s Offer of Aid for Denuclearization 

Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un slammed Seoul’s offer of economic assistance in return for de-nuclearization. The offer had been made by South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol. Kim called the offer the “height of absurdity” asking South Korea’s President to “shut his mouth” terming Yoon as “simple and still childish”. South Korea reacted by stating that North Korea’s “attitude is in no way helpful to the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula”.

VI Developments in Taiwan

Taiwan reacts in a measured manner to China’s military exercises in the Taiwan Strait 

The people of Taiwan reacted in a measured manner to the conduct of military exercises in the Taiwan Strait by the PLA after the visit to Taiwan of Nancy Pelosi. Taipei was normal as people went about their daily lives in a quiet manner. The Taiwan military conducted its own live-fire artillery drills simulating the defence of the island, even as Foreign Minister Joseph Wu stated that China has used its own drills and its military playbook to prepare for the invasion on Taiwan. He termed the war games a “gross violation” of Taiwan’s rights. Thereafter, Beijing continued its exercises for a few more days. 

Taiwan raises defence budget by 15 per cent 

Taiwan’s government proposed a record defence budget of NT$523.4 billion for 2023 as it continues to focus on conventional weapons even as the United States calls for pre-eminence to asymmetrical warfare. The budget proposed is a 15 per cent rise over the 2022 budget. The budget will have to be approved by Taiwan’s legislature.

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