Asia Daily: December 21, 2023
In China's eyes we're all separatists, Taiwan presidential frontrunner says. Taiwan's presidential frontrunner, leading the polls for the January 13 elections, stated in a joint televised address that all three presidential candidates are viewed as separatists by China. The elections are crucial for Taiwan's ties with Beijing, occurring amidst increased Chinese military activities around the island. China has criticized Vice President Lai Ching-te, the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) candidate, as a dangerous separatist. Candidate Ko Wen-je focused on domestic issues, expressing a desire for Taiwan to act as a bridge between China and the United States. Ben Blanchard and Angie Teo, Reuters, December 20
Japan's new China envoy vows 'tenacious' effort on Fukushima row. Kenji Kanasugi, the new Japanese Ambassador to China, has pledged to tenaciously negotiate with Beijing to resolve the bilateral dispute over the release of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the sea. The ambassador emphasized the need for both countries to work constructively based on science to find common ground despite their differences on water discharge. China's response to the water release, which started in August, was to impose a total ban on seafood imports from Japan, citing contamination concerns with nuclear material. Maya Kaneko, The Japan Times, December 20
Coast guard forces of Việt Nam, Japan strengthen cooperation. The Vietnam and Japan Coast Guards have intensified their cooperative activities, as highlighted in their 10th bilateral meeting in Tokyo. The meeting, part of a series marking significant anniversaries in Vietnam-Japan relations, focused on reviewing joint activities such as ship visits, non-combat sea exercises, and high-level delegation exchanges. Major General Vũ Trung Kiên emphasized the successful implementation of these activities, contributing to enhanced maritime law enforcement capacity. Vietnam News, December 20
Philippines rebukes China over South China Sea claims. Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro criticized China for its stance in the South China Sea, asserting that no country unequivocally supports China's extensive territorial claims. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has called for a "paradigm shift" in handling the South China Sea issue, noting the ineffectiveness of current diplomatic efforts with China. Amid growing tensions, Marcos seeks stronger ties with the United States and a joint position on the matter within the Indo-Pacific region. China's embassy in Manila emphasizes its commitment to managing maritime differences through dialogue. Karen Lema, Reuters, December 20
Deeper China-Russia relations a ‘strategic choice’ by both sides, Xi Jinping tells Russian Prime Minister Mishustin. Chinese President Xi Jinping described deepening China-Russia relations as a "strategic choice" beneficial for both nations. In a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin in Beijing, Xi committed to advancing high-level political and economic ties with Moscow. Emphasizing mutual interests, Xi called for enhanced cooperation in economy, trade, energy, and connectivity. The strengthening of these bilateral relations is evidenced by the substantial trade volume between the two countries, which surpassed the annual target of US$218 billion, reaching it a year ahead of schedule. Kawala Xie, South China Morning Post, December 20
Israeli-owned ships banned from docking in Malaysia. Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim announced a ban on docking for ships with the Israeli flag in Malaysia, effective immediately. This decision also prohibits vessels en route to Israel from loading cargo at Malaysian ports. The restrictions are a response to Israel's actions against Palestinians, which Anwar describes as violations of international law and humanitarian principles. The government also decided to block ZIM, an Israeli-based shipping company, from docking at any Malaysian port. These measures are a significant shift from previous Malaysian policies allowing such ships since 2002. Channel News Asia, December 20
N. Korean economy shrinks for 3rd consecutive year in 2022. The North Korean economy continued its decline in 2022, marking the third consecutive year of shrinkage due to international sanctions and COVID-19 impacts. The country's real GDP fell by 0.2% in 2022, following a 4.5% decrease in 2020 and a 0.1% decline in 2021. Notably, North Korea's total trade value surged 122.4% to $1.59 billion, while its population reached 25.7 million, with life expectancy at 71.9 years for men and 78.3 for women. Oh Seok-min, Yonhap News Agency, December 20
China’s Export-Reliant Growth Model Threatens Its Trade Relations. China's economic model, heavily reliant on exports, faces challenges as global protectionism grows. The country's dependence on the world absorbing its surplus production is increasingly problematic, especially for Europe, which is exposed to China's dumping practices. Despite new fiscal stimulus and efforts to rescue the real estate sector, China is experiencing deflation, lower demand for durable goods, and reduced imports. Moody's downgrading warning and President Xi Jinping's remark about China's economic recovery being at a critical stage reflect these challenges. The situation highlights the risks of China's export-driven growth strategy in a changing global economic landscape. By François Godement, The Diplomat, December 21
Moving Beyond ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’: Japan’s Changing Refugee Policy. Japan's approach to refugee policy is evolving, moving beyond its traditional 'checkbook diplomacy.' Historically, Japan has been a significant financial contributor to refugee causes but has admitted a relatively low number of asylum seekers. Recent changes, however, indicate a shift in policy. In 2022, Japan dramatically increased its total protection rate, granting asylum to a higher percentage of applicants, including a significant number of Afghans and Myanmar citizens. This shift is partly due to Japan's clarification and update of its interpretation of international refugee law, following consultation with the UNHCR. Additionally, Japan has admitted over 2,500 Ukrainians as "evacuees" since Russia's invasion in February 2022. These changes, including the new complementary system for "quasi-refugees," suggest a more active role for Japan in hosting those in need of protection, reflecting a departure from its historically low asylum admission rates. By Maximilien Xavier Rehm, The Japan Times, December 20
Vietnam's Show of Welcome for Xi Reflects Growing Self-Confidence. Vietnam's recent reception of Chinese President Xi Jinping highlights its growing self-confidence and strategic positioning. While Vietnam and China share a communist bond and strategic partnership, their relationship is complicated by territorial disputes in the South China Sea and Hanoi's broad suspicion of Chinese motives. Xi's visit, aimed at reinvigorating bilateral ties, saw Vietnam join China's "community of common destiny," a significant move considering Hanoi's previous reluctance. This decision underscores Vietnam's importance to China and reflects Hanoi's strategic hedging, known as "bamboo diplomacy," to balance relations with China and other global powers. The visit resulted in several bilateral agreements, but some expected deals, like those on rare earth metals, did not materialize, indicating persistent disagreements. Vietnam's evolving foreign policy, marked by strengthening ties with countries outside China's influence, demonstrates its multifaceted approach to international relations and security. By Derek Grossman, Nikkei Asia, December 21
Myanmar Military Under Pressure as Legal Jeopardy Builds. Myanmar's military junta, led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, faces increasing legal jeopardy as several countries intervene in the Rohingya genocide case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The interventions, including one from the Maldives and a joint effort by Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, could bind both the parties and the intervenors if found admissible. This legal pressure coincides with significant battlefield losses for the Myanmar military, potentially leading to an existential crisis for the junta. Ethnic armed groups have gained the upper hand in various parts of the country, capturing major border towns and overrunning military posts. These developments suggest a shift in the civil war's direction and raise questions about the future of Myanmar's military leadership and the construction of a potentially democratic and federal state. By Adam Simpson, East Asia Forum, December 21
Why One Couple’s Interrupted Chinese Property Dream Hit a Nation’s Nerve.
The story of Liangliang and Lijun, a young couple in China, resonates deeply with many Chinese citizens facing similar economic hardships. Their journey, from purchasing a home with Sunac China Holdings to facing financial struggles due to the developer's bankruptcy and halted construction, mirrors the broader economic downturn in China. The couple's experiences, shared on social media, highlight the challenges of maintaining a livelihood in big cities amid pay cuts and the COVID-19 pandemic. Their situation reflects the disillusionment of many young Chinese who once aspired to the Chinese dream of homeownership and financial stability. As they pack their bags to leave the city, their story sheds light on the broader issues of unemployment, financial insecurity, and the loss of hope among China's youth, signaling a shift in societal attitudes and expectations. By Phoebe Zhang, South China Morning Post, December 20
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