East Asia Digest by Ambassador Gautam Bambawale | September 2022

I Overview

China:

  • 20th Party Congress announced
  • Xi Jinping physically attends Samarkand Summit of the SCO
  • China launches two new experimental satellites

Japan:

  • US Vice President Kamala Harris to visit Tokyo for Shinzo Abe’s Funeral
  • PM Modi to visit Japan for Abe’s funeral
  • Japan’s defence budget for fiscal 2023 likely to exceed 6 trillion Yen
  • Komeito Party approves 8th term for its leader

South Korea:

  • President Yoon Suk-yeol’s approval rating falls below 30%
  • President Yoon under pressure to change his national security team
  • US and South Korea commence first combined naval exercise in many years
  • US Vice President Kamala Harris to visit Seoul
  • Won sinks below 1400 mark against US Dollar

North Korea: 

  • North Korea fires ballistic missile into Sea of Japan

Taiwan:

  • Taiwan to end quarantine on 13 October
  • US Secretary of State and Chinese Foreign Minister discuss Taiwan at the U.N.

II Developments in China

20th Party Congress announced

The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) will be held at Beijing from 16 October 2022. The Congress is expected to give Xi Jinping a third term as General Secretary of the Party for a further 5-year period. 

Indian social media went wild on 24 September 2022 with rumours of Xi Jinping being under house arrest, although the Western media was more circumspect on this matter having weathered similar social media storms earlier. The news is most likely incorrect although some changes in the top leadership of China will be announced at the Party Congress. 

Xi Jinping physically attends Samarkand Summit of the SCO 

Participating physically in the SCO Summit at Samarkand on 16 September 2022, Xi Jinping commemorated the 20th anniversary of the SCO Charter by pointing to five important practices of the organization which shows the way forward for all international organizations. The five practices include – political trust, win-win cooperation, equality between nations, openness and inclusiveness, equity and justice. Talking of the resurgence of a Cold War mentality, Xi castigated the obsession of forming a small circle and called for rejection of zero sum games and bloc politics. 

A bilateral meeting between PM Modi and Xi did not take place despite Indian media debating this for several days. Why they felt such a meeting would happen given the on-going situation in Eastern Ladakh is a mystery to informed observers. 

China launches two new experimental satellites 

China launched two new satellites on 25 September from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center – the Shiyan 14 and the Shiyan 15. The first is to be used mainly to conduct scientific experiments and verify new technologies, while the second satellite aims to provide data in land survey, urban planning and disaster mitigation.

III Developments in Japan

US Vice President Kamala Harris to visit Tokyo for Shinzo Abe’s Funeral 

Kamala Harris, the Vice President of the United States will lead a delegation to Tokyo in the last week of September for the State funeral of former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe. The delegation includes USTR Katherine Tai and former US Ambassadors to Japan Caroline Kennedy and William Hagerty. 

Harris is expected to meet PM Kishida and discuss the strength of the alliance as well as the issue of Taiwan. 

PM Modi to visit Japan for Abe’s funeral 

The Government of India also announced that PM Modi will visit Japan on 27 September 2022 to attend the State Funeral of Shinzo Abe. He is also expected to meet current Japanese PM Fumio Kishida. 

Japan’s defence budget for fiscal 2023 likely to exceed 6 trillion Yen 

Japan’s Ministry of Defense finalized its required budget including 100 items to strengthen the nation’s defense capability. The defense budget is likely to exceed 6 trillion Yen in fiscal 2023 even as Japan’s ruling party LDP insisted that the nation must enhance its defence spending as a proportion of GDP from 1% to 2%. Japan’s Government is targeting defense spending of over 40 trillion Yen over the five year period from 2023 onward. This compares with 27.47 trillion Yen in the five years till 2023.  

Komeito Party approves 8th term for its leader 

 Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the LDP in Japan’s government endorsed a 8th term for its leader Natsuo Yamaguchi. Komeito is backed by Japan’s largest lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai. Yamaguchi has led the party since 2009.

IV Developments in South Korea

President Yoon Suk-yeol’s approval rating falls below 30% 

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s approval rating has fallen below the 30% mark even as he returned to Seoul after a 7-day foreign trip to the UK, USA and Canada. Several gaffes were highlighted by the Korean media including President Yoon’s remarks being caught on a hot microphone where he criticized the National Assembly of Korea. At the United Nations General Assembly, it was announced that Yoon would hold a summit meeting with PM Kishida of Japan which did not materialize despite the Koreans begging the Japanese. Eventually, the two did meet at the Japanese Permanent Mission office but the Japanese described it as a “informal” talk. 

President Yoon under pressure to change his national security team 

As a result of the many criticisms faced by President Yoon during his 7-day foreign tour recently, Korea’s main opposition party has called for him to change his entire foreign policy and national security team including Foreign Minister Park Jin and Director of the Office of National Security Kim Sung-han. 

US and South Korea commence first combined naval exercise in many years 

The United States and South Korea kicked off their first combined naval exercises in many years in the seas near the Korean Peninsula. The 4-day exercise includes the American aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and comes a day after North Korea fired a missile into the Sea of Japan. 

US Vice President Kamala Harris to visit Seoul 

Vice President Kamala Harris of the United States will visit South Korea after attending former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s funeral in Tokyo. She is scheduled to hold talks with President Yoon and host a roundtable discussion with leading women of South Korea. 

Won sinks below 1400 mark against US Dollar 

The South Korean Won has sunk below the 1400 mark against the US Dollar as a result of rising interest rates in the United States. Experts fear the currency could sink to a mark below 1500 by the end of 2022.

V Developments in North Korea

North Korea fires ballistic missile into Sea of Japan 

Recently, North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan ahead of planned military drills by South Korean and US forces involving an aircraft carrier and a visit to the region by US Vice President Kamala Harris. South Korea termed this act as being one of “grave provocation”.

VI Developments in Taiwan

Taiwan to end quarantine on 13 October 

The Taiwanese authorities announced that they would lift Covid induced quarantine provisions in the country on 13 October and that from date weekly arrival of foreign tourists and visitors would be enhanced to 150,000. From 29 October onward 60,000 visitors would be permitted to enter Taiwan. 

US Secretary of State and Chinese Foreign Minister discuss Taiwan at the U.N. 

US Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi are reported to have spent quite some time discussing Taiwan in their meeting on the margins of the UN General Assembly session in New York. Wang is said to have conveyed that Washington has been sending “very wrong, dangerous signals” on Taiwan. Wang said that the US does not have the right to interfere in methods Beijing may utilize to resolve the Taiwan issue. 

On his part Secretary Blinken made crystal clear that in accordance with its one-China policy, which has not changed, the US holds the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwna Strait as absolutely and vitally important.

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