A mourner pays respects to late former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was shot while campaigning for a parliamentary election, in Taipei, Taiwan, 11 July 2022 (Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang).

Author: Aurelia George Mulgan, UNSW Canberra

Tributes have been flowing for former Japanese prime Minister Shinzo Abe who was assassinated on 8 July. He is being remembered for his many policy achievements both domestic and foreign, for his global leadership and for the warm and memorable relations that he built with past and present world leaders — including Narendra Modi, Malcolm Turnbull, Donald Trump, Joe Biden Jr. and even Xi Jingping. Many key figures, including Vladimir Putin, whom Abe made a special effort to cultivate, have joined the chorus of those publicly mourning his passing.

Abe will also be forever remembered for conceptualising and undertaking key policy initiatives such as ‘Abenomics’, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and the ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’. These security concepts have since entered common parlance amongst regional and global leaders and represent a lasting strategic legacy.

But Abe’s strategic mission to ‘normalise’ Japan’s place in the world through constitutional recognition of its armed forces remained a work in progress. Increasingly, this long-held desire became a product not only of his historical nationalism but also a realist calculation of Japan’s expanding security imperatives.

When Abe died, he was building a wave of change in Japan’s defence policy as the primary ‘influencer’ of the Kishida government — a role facilitated by his leadership of the largest faction in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) — as well as continuing to make active policy proposals in a range of other fields. Abe also broadened his area of operations as a leading spokesperson for Japan on the regional and world stage — in international interviews and meetings — continuing to maintain and even raise his policy profile, both domestically and abroad. Although formally ‘out of power’, his domestic and international presence only <a target=_blank href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener …continue reading


World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in Geneva, Switzerland, 12 June 2022 (Photo: Reuters/Denis Balibouse).

Author: Bernard Hoekman, European University Institute

After two COVID-19-related postponements, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) 12th ministerial conference (MC12) was held in Geneva from 12–17 June 2022. Expectations for a successful meeting were low given the Russian war with Ukraine, US–China geopolitical tensions and deep disagreements among WTO members that range from agricultural support policies to the US decision to block the operation of the Appellate Body in 2019.

The WTO press release characterised the outcome as an ‘unprecedented package’ that ‘underlines the important role of the WTO in addressing the world’s most pressing issues’. Notwithstanding the hyperbole, MC12 was a significant achievement relative to expectations and the previous meeting, where ministers could not agree to a joint declaration.

MC12 produced a new multilateral agreement on fishery subsidies — the second new agreement since the WTO began operations in 1995. Ministers exempted World Food Programme food purchases from export restrictions. They decided that developing countries may authorise the use of patented technologies to produce COVID-19 vaccines and supply these to other developing nations without the consent of rights holders. This decision showed WTO members were able to conclude an agreement on a highly contested subject and do so in a way that differentiates across developing countries. This is a long-standing problem in the WTO. The agreement includes a footnote encouraging developing countries with vaccine manufacturing capacity to commit not to avail themselves of this option. China did so, illustrating that developing country status in the WTO need not preclude differentiation in the application of rules.

The fisheries agreement is important because it addresses a global environmental concern and because repeatedly missed deadlines to conclude an agreement had undermined the credibility of the WTO as a negotiating forum. The agreement is an ‘early’ harvest of matters on which there was consensus …continue reading


Children use laptops in an open-air class outside a house with the walls converted into black boards following the closure of their schools due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Joba Attpara village, West Bengal, India, 13 September 2021 (Photo: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri).

Author: Yoonee Jeong, Asian Development Bank

The Asia Pacific is both hyper-connected and under-connected. While the region hosts leaders in 5G and fibre rollouts, many developing countries are either largely offline or suffer from unaffordable and unreliable digital services. Closing the digital divide was never more critical than during the COVID-19 pandemic, where populations without broadband access have suffered disproportionately and fallen further behind in education, health and other socio-economic outcomes.

The success of the region’s collective digital future hinges on how well and how soon we provide the affordable, accessible, resilient and reliant digital infrastructure needed for the foundation and operation of an inclusive digital society. Securing an inclusive digital future for all, including the most vulnerable, is an urgent policy priority. Achieving this ambition will require rethinking how we view and address the digital divide.

The digital divide between and within countries has not only persisted but is arguably widening. According to International Telecommunications Union, nearly 40 per cent of the population in the Asia Pacific remained unconnected in 2021, with non-users disproportionately concentrated in rural and remote communities and within the female population.

There is also a vast difference in internet quality between and within countries. China’s national average mobile broadband download speed (202 Mbps) was nearly 12 times that of landlocked countries in the region, while the fixed broadband download speed in Thailand (109 Mbps) and the South Korea (103 Mbps) were four times higher than the average across the region, according to a 2021 study by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

At this pace, the region will also miss 2025 Advocacy Targets set by the United Nations Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development around universal connectivity, affordability, skills, access, equality and use. …continue reading


A Ricoh employee checks a drum unit on the production line at the company's printer components factory in Atsugi, Kanagawa prefecture, Japan, 13 July 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Naomi Tajitsu).

Author: Yasuyuki Todo, Waseda University

Global supply chains are being reorganised as Western countries attempt to decouple from the Chinese economy and firms are increasingly aware of the risks of supply chain disruption after COVID-19-related lockdowns. Many countries have implemented policies to support the restructuring of global supply chains and Japan is no exception.

In 2019, the Japanese government strengthened export controls on military and dual-use products and technologies, following the US lead. Japan also provided subsidies to firms that onshore high-risk digital, green and health-related products. That move attracted a frontier Taiwanese semiconductor producer, TSMC, to Japan drawing subsidies of up to US$4.5 million.

In May 2022, Japan enacted an economic security law. It aimed to construct resilient supply chains of ‘critical products’ by providing financial support to producers of these products and asking them to provide reports about their procurement and production.

One major goal of these policies is to reduce Japan’s reliance on China and construct more resilient and secure supply chains. The Japanese economy appears a little closer to achieving this goal. China’s share of imports of parts to Japan declined from 29.5 per cent in 2015 to 26.1 per cent in 2021. The corresponding share for Australia increased from 23.5 per cent to 29.8 per cent.

But despite the stricter export controls of high-tech products, exports from Japan to China did not decline. Total exports from Japan to China increased from US$132.8 billion in 2017 to US$163.9 billion in 2021. Even exports of semiconductor-related products from Japan to China have shown an increasing trend for the past four years.

Diversifying supply chain partners across countries can increase resilience to foreign shocks due to natural disasters and <a target=_blank …continue reading


Sayi Gharat, 9, attends school online using her mother's mobile phone in Dunge village in western India, 8 February, 2022 (Photo: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Rina Chandran).

Authors: Helani Galpaya and Ramathi Bandaranayake, LIRNEasia

Having stagnated for years, the percentage of South Asians who have used the internet has finally reached 50 per cent. In South Asia internet use is synonymous with social media, with most users spending all their time on chat applications. Many of these users have low digital skills and are often passive consumers in a digital world that attempts to influence, and at times misinform and manipulate, them.

Another smaller group are more active consumers, working digitally on global remote-work platforms and earning much-needed income. But even their labour can be an unwitting participant in these manipulation efforts.

Like other regions, South and Southeast Asia have seen a growing debate about ‘information disorder’, a term including misinformation, disinformation, mal-information and hate speech. This is not a new problem. False and hateful content has long been spread by governments, individuals, special interest groups and other entities through non-digital means. But digital technologies enable a higher volume of information to spread faster and with greater reach.

Information disorder can be spread by actors with different motivations. In the political arena, organised online disinformation campaigns such as ‘IT cells’ in India, ‘troll factories’ in the Philippines, ‘buzzers’ in Indonesia and ‘cyber troops’ in Malaysia seek to influence electoral and other political outcomes. These campaigns can also cross borders. A 2020 EU Disinfo Lab report described an operation they dubbed ‘Indian chronicles’, which ‘resurrected dead media, dead think-tanks and NGOs’ as part of an attempt to undermine Pakistan internationally.

Likewise, Doublethink Lab in Taiwan observed operations based in China and Taiwan pushing narratives such as ‘democracy is a failure’ targeting Taiwan’s 2020 general elections. Hate speech against ethnic minorities also spreads online. Serious anti-Muslim sentiment online …continue reading


When the temple asks, the temple shall receive…five-fold.

Horyuji Temple in Nara Prefecture is one of the many Japanese landmarks that suffered a severe lack of tourists during the pandemic. Select Buddhist temples in Japan charge a small entrance fee to enter the temple grounds, and without that vital revenue Horyuji has had trouble keeping up with maintenance costs.

Along with taking part in creative Adult School Field Trips, on June 15, the temple also launched a crowdfunding campaign on Japanese website Readyfor, with a goal of 20 million yen by July 25. However, much to the temple’s surprise, they surpassed five times that goal in just eight days when they raised a staggering 100 million yen. As of June 27, the donation pool is currently over 118 million.

▼ All for the sake of this lovely building.

So, what makes Horyuji Temple such a big deal? In 1993, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was originally built in the year 607, and while parts of the temple have been rebuilt due to age and disasters, the main hall allegedly remains the oldest wooden building in the world. Besides that, many people visit the temple to see its impressive five-story pagoda, historic Buddhist statues, and more.

Naturally, temple staff are floored by the outpouring of financial support and made an update profusely thanking everyone that has donated so far. They did note that donation perks (such as having your name published on the temple’s official site, a special access praying experience, and so on) will no longer be available due to the sheer number of donators. A good problem to have, we’d say!

▼ Would you think that something this historic could look this nice?

<img src="" …continue reading


Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida poses with newly appointed ministers at Prime Minister's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, 10 November 2021 (Photo: Reuters/Kimimasa Mayama)

Author: Emma Dalton, RMIT

Gender inequality is a stubbornly entrenched problem for Japan. It ranked 120 out of 156 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index (GGI) Report 2021, which measures the gap between men and women in political representation, economic empowerment, education and health. This puts Japan at the bottom of the ladder among the developed world.

In comparison, neighbouring China, South Korea and Singapore were ranked 107, 102 and 54 respectively, while the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom were ranked 30, 24, 50 and 23 respectively. What is remarkable about these reports is the fact that Japan’s ranking has not improved over time, unlike in other countries.

In 2006, the first year the Report was published, Japan ranked 79 out of 115 countries while France and Bangladesh ranked 70 and 91 respectively. France and Bangladesh gradually narrowed their gender gaps, rising to 16 and 65 by 2021. Japan has not followed the trend of other countries — even those not considered ‘advanced democracies’ — in closing the gender gap.

Japan’s poor GGI ranking is due to women holding low status positions in the workforce and the underrepresentation of women in politics. Although 77 per cent of Japanese women work today — a higher rate than the OECD average of 66 per cent — more than half of them are employed in non-regular roles. In comparison, less than a third of working men hold non-regular positions. ‘Non-regular’ work includes temporary, part-time or casual jobs that offer limited security, few benefits, low wages and low prestige.

Japanese women’s salaries hardly rise throughout their career. Men and women usually start working in their 20s, where they receive similar <a target=_blank …continue reading


The elderly stroll in Tokyo's Sugamo district, 21 September 2020 (Photo: Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO via Reuters).

Author: Editorial Board, ANU

Japan is shrinking and ageing. The population fell by 618,000 last year and Japan’s society is the oldest in the world with almost 30 per cent of the population aged over 65. In 15 years that share will be one-third. There are 80,000 centenarians and the number is growing.

Each person of working age will need to support more in society as longevity and a low birth rate continue to age Japan. That rising dependency ratio means productivity growth will become even more important to sustaining the living standards of the population.

Japanese society faces that challenge with an eye-watering government debt of 270 per cent of GDP — the highest on record, ever, for any country — compared to 137 per cent in the United States or 48 per cent for Australia, for example. Government debt continues to increase with Japan’s ‘silver democracy’ making it difficult to cut back rising healthcare, aged care and pension costs. Defence spending is rising and there are no plans in sight for chipping away at government debt.

Before COVID-19 Japan had started to unlock immigration, gradually. Even if that resumes when Japan opens up its borders, it would barely make a difference.

Maintaining living standards in Japan will depend on rapid productivity growth.

The two prime ministers who have managed to stay in office for longer than one year since the turn of the century — Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe — made some progress on reform, but a reform weary society meant progress was limited. The two steps forward from Mr Koizumi’s privatisation and deregulation in the early 2000s were met by one step backwards after he left office.

Mr Abe’s ambitious Abenomics reform package failed to fire on structural or supply side reforms that would have boosted productivity. Instead the arrows that fired were …continue reading


Fumio Kishida, Japan's prime minister, departs after a news conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, 24 May 2022 (Photo: Kiyoshi Ota/Pool via Reuters).

Author: Richard Katz, Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs

For six long months, the Kishida administration, aided by outside advisors from universities and new companies, toiled to translate Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s mantra of a ‘new form of capitalism’ into concrete policies. The rather hollow end product that the Cabinet approved on 7 June 2022 must have disappointed many of the participants.

When it came to the foundational principle — that healthy growth and a more equal distribution of income needed each other — Kishida surrendered to critics in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and financial markets who wrongly accused him of promoting socialism. In reality, promoting redistribution to reduce inequality and improve consumer demand is a longstanding ingredient in the standard macroeconomic recipe.

Some critics claim that rather than distribution measures, Kishida would achieve better wage growth through reforms that enhanced labour productivity. While that’s necessary, it is no longer sufficient to boost wages. Wages in the last few decades have stopped increasing in proportion to productivity growth in many countries. This wage gap is worse in Japan than in other rich countries.

The result is a Japanese policy document full of rhetoric about attaining a ‘virtuous cycle of growth and distribution’ — with few substantive measures to achieve it. It is equally weak on how to achieve its growth-boosting goals, such as the declared objective of a tenfold increase in start-up companies.

Kishida’s surrender began just after his inauguration in October 2021. During the ‘Kishida shock’, stock prices fell in response to his call for higher capital gains and dividend taxes so that multimillionaires would no longer pay lower tax rates than upper-middle class citizens. Kishida quickly withdrew.

The backpedalling continued, when Kishida decided that he could not afford to offend Keidanren, the big …continue reading


Japan's national flag flutters in front of a construction site of a commercial building in Tokyo (Photo: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Author: Toshiya Takahashi, Shoin University

While the Japanese media were occupied by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Japan’s economic security bill passed without strong opposition in the Diet in May 2022. Reflecting increasing concerns about China’s trade obstructionism and economic espionage, the bill outlines measures to defend Japanese supply chains, infrastructure and leading technology. But the new security policy will have uncertain effects on Japanese security and business.

Focussing on four areas of economic security — supply chains, basic infrastructure, leading technology and patent publication for sensitive technologies — the law enables the national government to intervene in Japanese companies’ dealings with foreign companies.

The law encourages Japanese companies to diversify supply chains with critical materials, while the government provides funds for diversification if companies meet certain conditions. If the procurement and supply of basic infrastructure have the potential to facilitate foreign obstruction, the government identifies the sector and orders it to provide a pre-made procurement or supply-planning plan to ensure the safety of their infrastructure. The law lists 14 sectors, including electricity, water supply and information technology, as candidates to become ‘specified social infrastructure businesses’.

For the protection and promotion of leading Japanese technology, the law requires the national government to create a technology council — composed of government officers, experts and think tanks — and to commission research to think tanks. The government can suspend the publication of a patent if the product is found to be security-sensitive technology.

While the business sector expressed concerns about the new regulation, the only clear objection came from the Japan Communist Party. Other political parties generally agreed to the bill. A nationalistic conservative group of the Liberal Democratic Party supported the bill to counter China, asserting the importance of creating strong national security institutions. Moderate conservatives also supported the bill, arguing that …continue reading