Regionally, Sino-Japanese relations have experienced another development. An old China-hand in Japan, the Secretary-General of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Toshihiro Nikai was dispatched to the inaugural Belt and Road Forum (May 15, 2017) in Beijing where he announced that Japan may consider joining the Beijing-led multilateral Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The Japanese government clarified that the country will observe environmental impact, debt sustainability, transparency, and governance issues.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on his part will discuss the issue carefully with Washington. The atmosphere for warmer bilateral relations between China and Japan also rested on the US President Donald Trump’s administration which has improved US relations with China. This is an important development, given the backdrop of the US-Japan alliance in East Asia. Japan is moving in tandem with warmer Sino-US relations.
Nikai’s seniority has raised the importance of this development, given that he is second ranked within the ruling party. As Japanese politics is factionally based, it will now depend on whether Nikai is able to convince other influential factions within the party to look at the idea of an AIIB membership. It will be a challenging uphill process. The pro-Beijing factions in the LDP see the AIIB membership as a way to improve Sino-Japanese relations but those who oppose it may be worried about rivalry with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in which Tokyo and Washington have a strong presence. Tokyo’s experiences in managing the ADB and its investments may be useful for the AIIB. In March 2017, with the approval of Canada as a member, AIIB membership has overtaken ADB in quantitative terms.
Regardless of the decision, Secretary General Nikai has delivered Prime Minister Abe’s personal letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping. Nikai personally met with President Xi and both of them engaged in a dialogue that lasted 17 minutes. Overall, North Korea appears to be a point of focus in which the two countries can cooperate, alongside the US and South Korea. Reciprocity appears to be another issue of discussion focusing on bilateral visits between the leaders of the two countries. Nikai carried President Xi’s messages back to Prime Minister Abe. All these developments are ice-thawing events in enhancing bilateral relations between the two countries which often goes through cyclical phases that alternate between challenging and cooperative phases. The various outreaches are also beneficial to China as the country prepares to groom its next succeeding generation of leaders. Stable foreign relations with neighbors is non-detrimental to this process.
Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi met with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on May 30, 2017 in Tokyo to improve bilateral relations and also to lay the groundwork for the 45th anniversary of the normalization of Sino-Japanese ties in 2017 and the 40th anniversary of China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 2018. All these initiatives help to strengthen the bilateral relationship.
Pre-emptive (as opposed to post-event) strikes by law enforcement authorities against terrorists and criminal elements appear to be the core motivations for this bill.
Domestically, Japan has pushed through an anti-conspiracy bill (also discussed in the international media as an “anti-terror conspiracy law”) through both houses of parliament (the Diet). The bill makes 277 acts illegal. Democracy, feelings on the ground, expert opinions and inputs, government scrutiny, and political party discussions may have pared down the initial 676 proposed criminalized items to just 277. For example, it criminalizes funding sources and land area surveys that support the 277 offences and other activities ancillary to those crimes. Catching wild game, harvesting exotic wild mushrooms, and gambling on speed-boat races are just some of the other activities cited in the bill that have the potential to generate funds for terrorist and criminal groups. Pre-emptive (as opposed to post-event) strikes by law enforcement authorities against terrorists and criminal elements appear to be the core motivations for this bill. The bill also facilitates the gathering of vital intelligence on terrorist planners and plotters so that law enforcement agencies can pre-emptively strike at the terrorist before their attack happens. In the current state of law in Japan, offenders can only be arrested after the crime has been committed.
The bill was pushed through by the ruling coalition, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the lay pacifist political party Komeito that used to be affiliated with the Buddhist Soka Gakkai. There are at least three legitimate reasons for the Japanese government to see the bill through.
First and second, according to the Japanese government’s narrative, Japan is required to accede to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) to fight organized criminal activities. The bill tackles attempts to increase organized criminal activities. The UNTOC was initiated prior to the 9/11 attacks. To accede to this international treaty, participating states have to go after criminal organizations that carry out criminal activities in the interest of financial gains, and also stop groups formed to plan criminal offenses in the future.
Third, Tokyo’s (and Japan’s) defining post-311 (Great East Japan Earthquake) moment is coming up in the Tokyo Olympics, thus the urgency of the bill, since only three years are left before this crucial key event takes place. Some international commentaries noted that Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga made his public presentation and announcement of the desire to work in tandem with other stakeholders through the bill. Besides the Olympic event, a smaller but equally internationally important event which requires greater policing powers by the law enforcement authorities is the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The Abe administration has the requisite 2/3 majority vote to push the bill through. Prime Minister Abe’s support remain comparatively high in recent polls. Support for the bill in some polls indicate that half of the voting electorate in Japan is on board. They may have been reassured by the government that the bill is meant to target terrorists and criminal groups. This section of the populace must be convinced that the benefits for public law and order outweigh the concerns about civil liberties. There is also an international element to the bill as the government is interested to cooperate with the international community on this issue. The push-through of the bill indicates the robust enduring resilience of the Abe administration.