For over a decade, rare earths have emerged as a crucial commodity in the race for the geo-economic dominance of this century, and that is not by chance. As a matter of fact, rare earths are fundamental for the development of the new technologies that will enable the green revolution envisaged by the international community’s climate change efforts.
Following previous virtual discussions, including as part of the recent summit between leaders of the “Quad” nations of India, Australia, Japan and the USA, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will travel to Washington DC on 16 April to be the first foreign leader to meet President Joe Biden in person. Conversations are expected to address global issues ranging from climate change to the coronavirus pandemic, however all eyes will be on foreign policy outcomes, especially those pertaining to China.
In Japan, both the population and the birthrate are declining while the population is aging. In the manufacturing industry that supports the Japanese economy skilled workers are also aging and in short supply. For this reason, manufacturing companies are increasing their productivity by implementing digital technology in order to make up for this shortage of skilled workers.
Global trade experienced a sharp drop due to the spread of COVID-19 early last year but managed to recover to pre-pandemic level later in the same year. Japan was no exception to this trend. More than one-third of Japan’s total exports evaporated in the three month stretch between March and May last year, but its total exports rebounded and even exceeded pre-pandemic levels in October 2020.
Between December 2020 and January 2021, the Japanese Foreign Minister Motegi made two official visits to Africa in a row (1st round: Tunisia, Mozambique, South Africa Mauritius, 2nd round: Senegal and Kenya) to discuss future collaboration with these countries with an eye set on the forthcoming TICAD8 to be held in Tunis in 2022. An annual visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi followed in early January 2021, kicking off the year of FOCAC to be held in Senegal this year.
The EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) was signed and adopted in July 2018 in parallel with the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). For now, the agreement is only provisionally as it is pending final approval. The SPA will enter into force after all EU members ratify the agreement (the Japanese parliament already ratified it in December 2018). The agreement covers EU-Japanese cooperation in international politics, economics, and security.
With the resignation of Prime Minister Abe, the future of Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy has been called into question. Abe was indeed one of the key architects of this vision and he devoted enormous energy to flesh it out. For sure, his successor, Suga Yoshihide, will have his hands full with domestic issues, from tackling the COVID-related economic crisis to implementing daunting structural reforms.
The prime ministership of Abe Shinzo has had a considerable impact on the relationship between Japan and Australia, as well as Canberra’s own foreign policy perspectives. The two countries have come to see each other as their central security partner outside of their respective alliances with the United States, and their most reliable partner with Washington in its current unpredictable state.
Bilateral relations between Japan and China are one of the scarecrows that hover over the issues of East Asia’s security and trade. Several elements characterize the divide between the two countries, mainly historical disputes over the Japanese invasion in the 1930s and the close relationship developed by Japan and the United States after the Second World War.
Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is generally credited with improving and intensifying bilateral relations with the US, especially on security matters. In 2014 he moved to reinterpret Article 9 of the constitution that bars Japan from waging war and maintaining military forces. In doing so, he overturned his own Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) longstanding position against exercising the right of collective self- defense. In 2015 he agreed to new US-Japan Defense Guidelines that greatly expand Japan’s commitment to provide military support to the US in the event of conflict.
Young people in Japan like to talk about people’s personalities, by saying that someone is “Yin” (dark) and another is “Yang” (light). According to Oxford Reference, “Yin-Yang” is the “two great opposite but complementary forces at work in the cosmos.” Suga Yoshihide, Japan’s new prime minister, worked in close tandem with Abe Shinzo for nearly eight years, like “Yin-Yang.” Although Suga’s name is little known internationally, he helped the former Prime Minister promote his political agenda, particularly on domestic policy issues.
Amending Japan’s postwar Constitution has been one of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s primary goals. Abe called for a constitutional amendment until 3 May 2020 (the Constitution Day), during the Covid-19 emergency.