Indo-Pacific Geopolitics Newsletter 03/12/2023

RADAR SWEEP Geopolitics Newsletter March 6-12 2023 South Korea and Japan agree on resolving forced labor dispute The government of


Geopolitics Newsletter March 6-12 2023

South Korea and Japan agree on resolving forced labor dispute

The government of South Korea announced a plan to resolve its row with Japan over compensation for victims of forced labor under Japanese rule during World War Two. U.S. President Joe Biden hailed the plan as “groundbreaking” and Japan responded by inviting South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol to Tokyo, in the first such visit in over a decade.

However, the announcement was immediately followed by protests in South Korea, where the scheme remains controversial.

The recent low in bilateral relations culminated in 2018, when South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel had to pay compensation to Korean survivors of Japanese forced labor. This angered the Japanese government, which imposed trade sanctions on South Korea and pointed to a bilateral treaty of 1965, in which Seoul rescinded any future claims against Japan for reparations. This stance continues to infuriate many in South Korea, which back then was still one of Asia’s poorest countries and dearly needed the aid Japan provided on condition of signing the treaty. Under the new scheme, the South Korean government will compensate the victims.

Most in South Korea want better relations with their neighbor, but Japan’s refusal to officially admit to its crimes and apologize remains a thorny issue. A sincere apology delivered by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida could solve much of Korean anger. But this remains unlikely, given Kishida’s reliance on right-wing legislators, many of whom continue to deny that forced labor occurred at all under Japanese rule during the war. For now, the Japanese government only agreed to reissue Japan’s 1998 vague apology for damages done under colonial rule. South Korea’s opposition, which controls Seoul’s legislature, will continue to politicize the matter.

South Korea Japan

Photo: South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at celebrations of the 77th anniversary of liberation from Japanese rule, March 6, 2023, JAPAN TIMES

Indo-Pacific Geopolitics

U.S.-South Korea bomber drill moved forward Mar. 6

The U.S. deployed a B-52 bomber as part of a joint drill with South Korea, in a show of force against North Korea. This minor drill comes ahead of next week’s major joint military exercises by Washington and Seoul. North Korea will likely increase missile tests and other means to show its displeasure at the joint drills. Read more [EXTERNAL]

Taiwans president confirmed an upcoming visit to the U.S. Mar. 6

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has confirmed that she would stop by Los Angeles and New York on her way to Central America. She will meet with the U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, in a move that will further anger Beijing. The trip’s itinerary has yet to be disclosed. Read more [EXTERNAL]

Chinese foreign minister held a press conference Mar. 7

China’s new Foreign Minister Qin Gang met with the press for two hours during the National People’s Congress. Qin reiterated to the U.S. that interference with Taiwan was China’s first red line. His comments came after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen announced that she would meet with the U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the U.S. Read more

Iran and Saudi Arabia restored ties with Chinas help Mar. 11

Following seven years of severed ties and with the help of Chinese mediation, arch-rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia have agreed to restore diplomatic relations. The deal was brokered in Beijing, with China’s most senior diplomat Wang Yi present for the announcement. This marks a success for Beijing, which is keen on becoming a stronger actor in the Gulf region. The UN also issued an endorsement of the rapprochement and thanked China for its involvement. Read more [EXTERNAL]

Micronesia considered switching diplomatic ties from Beijing to Taipei Mar. 10

The outgoing president of the Federated States of Micronesia has revealed that the country is considering switching its diplomatic ties from Beijing to Taipei. The unusual move is predicated on $50 million in aid to the small Pacific Island nation by Taiwan. Read more [EXTERNAL]

U.S.-Japan military drills concluded Mar. 12

The U.S. and Japan held a joint military exercise Iron Fist over the weekend, with a focus on parachute training and amphibious assault at remote islands. These most recent drills were part of recent efforts to strengthen security ties between the two allies amidst heightened tensions in the Taiwan Strait. Read more


EU forums on Kazakhstan rule of law met – Mar. 9

A Kazakh delegation attended two EU forums to discuss problems with Kazakhstan’s judicial system including human rights, border protection and anti-corruption. The meetings were an opportunity to discuss the heavy visa restrictions imposed on Kazakh citizens due to high crime rates and inadequate government responses. Read more.

Australia and India agreed to strengthen bilateral ties Mar. 10

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in New Delhi, where both leaders agreed to comprehensively bolster bilateral economic and security ties. Read more [EXTERNAL]

Macron and Sunak held a bilateral summit Mar. 10

The two leaders met in France in hopes of deepening cooperation following tensions over small migrant boats crossing the English Channel. At a news conference after the meeting, it was announced that the UK will help fund a migration center in France, and will contribute approximately $576 million to France over the next three years to help reduce small boat crossings via the English Channel. Read more.

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan held border talks Mar. 10

The two countries have been locked in a long-term border dispute, with both claiming ownership over various territories since the fall of the Soviet Union. Border talks were held in Dushanbe, discussing a deal to complete all border delimitations. Read more

National Security

South Korea approved Polands re-export of weapons Mar. 8

The South Korean government has approved Poland’s request to re-export Korean-made weapons systems to Ukraine. This marks a significant shift in South Korea’s previous insistence on remaining militarily neutral in the war in Ukraine. It also follows a recent deal to supply Poland with hundreds of South Korean tanks and artillery rocket launchers. Read more [EXTERNAL]

ASEAN and China agreed to establish a security hotline Mar. 10

Representatives of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China announced an agreement to establish a security hotline to prevent an escalation of tensions in the South China Sea. Read more [EXTERNAL]

Head of Council of Europe and EUs European Council met Mar. 10

Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić met with the President of the EU’s European Council Charles Michel in Brussels today. The two discussed the upcoming Council of Europe’s Fourth Summit of the Heads of State and Government in Reykjavik in May. During the meeting, Burić highlighted the need to ensure accountability in Ukraine through a new proposal. Read more [EXTERNAL]

Finance, Economics and Technology

Iran hosted Economic Cooperation Conference with 15 West African States Mar. 6

The conference aimed to ameliorate economic cooperation, specifically through investment and trade. Moving forward, future coordination will likely occur in the sectors of oil, gas, minerals and medicine, building on the proliferation of Iranian trade with Africa in the last year. Read more.

Bahrain hosted a regional medical education conference Mar. 9

Bahrain hosted the 2023 Arabian Gulf University conference “Towards Future Doctors: Innovations and Prospects”, focusing on technological medical progress for professionals in the post-COVID era, including telemedicine, virtual reality analysis and AI. Read more.

Japan announced intention to join WTO alternative Mar. 10

Japan has become the latest country to agree to join an alternative mechanism to the WTO for handling trade disputes. The top appellate body of the WTO has been defunct for over two years now, due to the U.S. continuing to block the appointment of judges. Read more [EXTERNAL]

Politics and Society

Womens Day rallies held globally Mar. 8

Women’s day rallies were held across major cities of the world. Large rallies were also held in South Korea, which continues to have the most severe gender pay gap in the developed world. Read more [EXTERNAL]

Xi Jinping received approval for a third presidential term Mar. 10

Xi Jinping has secured a third presidential term from the Chinese parliament. Li Qiang was confirmed as the new prime minister the following day. Both announcements had been anticipated in advance. Read more.

Turkish opposition parties jointly announced presidential candidate Mar. 6

The multi-party opposition decided to back Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, longtime head of the Republican People’s party (CHP), to run against incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey’s upcoming presidential election. Read more.


Heat records were broken across China Mar. 8

Dozens of cities have recorded warm temperature records for March. Wuhan registered 79 F (26 C), a temperature usually not seen until spring or early summer. These recent recordings follow last summer’s series of all-time heat records. Read more [EXTERNAL]

Japan entered the rare earths market Mar. 9

The Japan Organization for Metals and Energy Security announced it was investing into Australian rare earths production and hopes to be able to provide a third of Japanese demand within a few years. The announcement comes amidst increasing worries of dependence on China for electronics and green tech. Read more [EXTERNAL]

12th anniversary of Fukushima meltdown Mar. 11

12 years after the nuclear disaster, the Japanese government announced it would go ahead with the release of contaminated wastewater into the sea. The move remains controversial among other countries with access to the Pacific Ocean, including South Korea. Read more [EXTERNAL]


South Korean president to visit Japan Mar. 16-17

President Yoon Suk-yeol will meet his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, in the first such visit of a South Korean president in 12 years. The trip is intended to symbolize the thawing of bilateral relations. Read more [EXTERNAL]

Largest U.S.-South Korea military drills in five years to be held Mar. 13-23

The U.S. and South Korea are due to hold two concurrent military exercises over the course of 11 days: the computer-simulated Freedom Shield and the large-scale field exercise Warrior Shield. The exercises come amidst an increasingly hostile stance from North Korea. Read more [EXTERNAL]

German Chancellor to visit JapanMar. 18

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, accompanied by several of his ministers, will meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo to discuss strengthening economic and security cooperation. The meeting comes ahead of Japan’s hosting of the G7 Summit in Hiroshima in May and will be an opportunity for PM Kishida to showcase Japan’s leadership in Asia. Read more [EXTERNAL]

Japanese PM to visit India Mar. 19-21

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to visit India on a three-day trip to strengthen economic and security ties. The two countries have increased their security cooperation in recent years through the Quad format, which also includes the U.S. and Australia. Read more [EXTERNAL]

UN-backed Ukraine Black Sea grain deal to expire Mar. 18

The UN-backed and Turkey-mediated Black Sea grain deal, which allows for grain to be exported from Ukraine by ship, is about to expire. Russia has not yet agreed on prolonging the deal. Read more [EXTERNAL]


Contributions by: David Song-Pehamberger and Madeline McQuillan