Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress

Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress
Updated April 6, 2021
Congressional Research Service

Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress

Japan is a significant partner of the United States in a number of foreign policy areas, including
addressing regional security concerns, which range from hedging against Chinese military
modernization to countering threats from North Korea. The U.S.-Japan military alliance, formed
in 1952, grants the U.S. military the right to base U.S. troops—currently around 54,000 strong—
and other military assets on Japanese territory, undergirding the “forward deployment” of U.S.
troops in East Asia. In return, the United States pledges to help defend Japan. The two countries
collaborate through multiple bilateral and multilateral institutions on issues such as science and
technology, global health, energy, and agriculture.
With new leadership in both capitals since September 2020, the two countries have moved
quickly to reaffirm their relationship and to embark on new initiatives, from utilizing the “Quad”
framework with Australia and India to expanding climate and energy cooperation. Whereas
alliance relations under former President Trump and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe relied
heavily on personal rapport between leaders, President Biden and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga
may revert to a more traditional partnership that relies more on institutionalized ties. Suga has
pledged continuity in foreign policy, and Biden has emphasized rejuvenating bilateral alliances to
deal with issues like North Korean denuclearization as well as China’s maritime assertiveness,
human rights violations, and attempts to set new economic rules and norms through its growing
outward investment. In 2021, both U.S. and Japanese leaders are likely to prioritize parallel
domestic challenges of curbing the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and
promoting economic recovery, which could reduce their focus on foreign policy issues.
Over the past decade, U.S.-Japan defense cooperation has improved and evolved in response to
security challenges, such as the North Korean missile threat and the confrontation between Japan
and China over disputed islands. Despite these advances, Japan has indicated some desire to
develop a more autonomous defense posture that is less reliant on U.S. protection. Additional
concerns remain about the implementation of an agreement to relocate the controversial Futenma
base on Okinawa and burden-sharing negotiations that have been postponed to 2022. Although a
five-year agreement on how much Japan pays to defray the cost of hosting U.S. troops will expire
in April 2021, the two sides have agreed to postpone negotiations until next year.
Japan is the United States’ fourth-largest overall trading partner, Japanese firms are the second-
largest source of foreign direct investment in the United States, and Japanese investors are the
largest foreign holders of U.S. treasuries. Tensions in the trade relationship increased under the
Trump Administration with renewed focus on the bilateral U.S. trade deficit, particularly in motor
vehicles, which account for roughly one-third of Japan’s annual exports to the United States. A
limited trade agreement went into effect in January 2020 that includes tariff cuts and digital trade
commitments by both sides. The Biden Administration has not signaled whether it will prioritize
further trade talks with Japan, which the Trump Administration promised but did not pursue,
despite urging from many in Congress. The Biden Administration has emphasized working with
allies like Japan to meet the economic challenges posed by China.
With the major opposition parties in disarray, the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP’s) dominance
of Japanese politics does not appear to be threatened. However, Prime Minister Suga could
potentially face a leadership challenge from within the party. Among his biggest challenges is
hosting the 2021 Summer Olympic Games amidst a global pandemic. The Games were postponed
in 2020 as COVID-19 began spreading.

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Recent Developments ...................................................................................................................... 1
Continuity and Change Under New U.S. and Japanese Leadership.......................................... 1
Regional Policy: Convergences and Differences ...................................................................... 2
Japanese Politics: The Transition From Abe to Suga ................................................................ 3
Stage One Trade Agreement in Force, Next Stage Uncertain ................................................... 4
Japan’s Relations with South Korea: A Chilly Impasse ............................................................ 5
Climate Cooperation Poised to Increase ................................................................................... 6
Japan’s Foreign Policy .................................................................................................................... 8
Japan-China Sovereignty Dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea ................. 8
The Quad Signals Broader Approach ....................................................................................... 11
Japan and the Korean Peninsula .............................................................................................. 12
Japan’s Ties with South Korea .......................................................................................... 12
Comfort Women Issue ...................................................................................................... 13
Japan’s North Korea Policy .............................................................................................. 14
U.S. World-War II-Era Prisoners of War (POWs) ................................................................... 15
Energy and Environmental Issues ................................................................................................. 15
Nuclear Energy Policy ............................................................................................................ 18
Alliance Issues ............................................................................................................................... 20
Mutual Defense Guidelines ..................................................................................................... 23
Collective Self-Defense .......................................................................................................... 23
Realignment of the U.S. Military Presence on Okinawa ........................................................ 24
Burden-Sharing Issues ............................................................................................................ 25
Host Nation Support ......................................................................................................... 25
Additional Japanese Contributions ................................................................................... 26
Extended Deterrence ............................................................................................................... 27
Ballistic Missile Defense and Strike Capabilities ............................................................. 27
Economic Issues ............................................................................................................................ 28
Overview of the Bilateral Economic Relationship .................................................................. 29
Japan’s Domestic Economy: Seeking Growth amid Challenges ............................................ 31
Emphasis on “Womenomics” .................................................................................................. 34
U.S. Tariffs Under the Trump Administration ......................................................................... 35
U.S.-Japan Bilateral Trade Agreement Negotiations............................................................... 37
Japanese Politics ............................................................................................................................ 39
The LDP Coalition’s Control over the Diet ............................................................................ 39
Japan’s Largest Opposition Party, the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP) of
Japan .................................................................................................................................... 41
Upcoming Elections in 2021 ................................................................................................... 41
Japan’s Demographic Challenge ............................................................................................. 42

Figure 1. Map of Japan .................................................................................................................... 7
Figure 2. Map of U.S. Military Facilities in Japan ........................................................................ 22
Figure 3. GDP Growth: Japan and U.S. ........................................................................................ 31
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Figure 4. Consumer Price Index: Japan ......................................................................................... 33
Figure 5. Labor Force Participation Rate: Japan ........................................................................... 33
Figure 6. Party Affiliation in Japan’s Lower House of Parliament ............................................... 41

Table 1. U.S. Trade with Japan, Goods and Services .................................................................... 30

Author Information ........................................................................................................................ 43

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his report contains two main parts: a section describing recent events and a longer
background section on key elements of the U.S.-Japan relationship.
Recent Developments
Continuity and Change Under New U.S. and Japanese Leadership
Between September 2020 and January 2021, the United States and Japan ushered in new leaders,
both of whom promised to be responsible stewards of the long-standing bilateral relationship.
Although Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged to continue his predecessor Shinzo Abe’s
foreign policy goals, which included deepening alliance cooperation, Abe’s departure could upset
the stability that defined Abe’s tenure as the longest-serving premier of post-war Japan. President
Joe Biden has vowed to restore U.S. alliances and return to more predictable and institutionalized
diplomacy than former President Donald Trump’s non-traditional foreign policy approach, and
has installed well-known Asia hands to key personnel positions. However, both leaders are
hampered by the challenge of curbing the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic and
recovering from its economic impact, a consuming priority that could reduce the focus on foreign
policy issues.
Many of the key pillars of the U.S.-Japan alliance remain the same regardless of the leadership
changes. The Biden Administration appears keen to continue many aspects of the Indo-Pacific
strategy that Abe and Trump adopted, including utilization of the Quadrilateral Security
Dialogue—known as the “Quad”—with India and Australia. Biden, like Trump before him,
affirmed that Article Five of the mutual defense treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands, a disputed
territory that China also claims.1 In an indication that both sides want a smooth transition, they
agreed to postpone cost-sharing negotiations until 2022, when observers predict the two sides will
adopt a multi-year agreement of more modest increases in Japan’s funding than the Trump
Administration requested.2
In early March 2021, Biden convened a virtual summit with Prime Minister Suga, Indian Prime
Minister Narendra Modi, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the first-ever leader-level
meeting among members of the Quad that has elevated the group’s profile and expanded its scope
of operations. (See “The Quad Signals Broader Approach” below.) Secretary of State Antony
Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s first overseas trip was to Japan in March 2021,
where they held a joint consultative Defense and Foreign Ministerial (“2 + 2”) meeting with their
Japanese counterparts. It has been widely reported that President Biden’s first in-person meeting
as President with a foreign head of state will occur with Suga in April 2021.3
These developments are signs that the Biden and Suga Administrations appear intent on building
on the relationship’s already strong foundation, which enjoys broad support from Congress and
Japan’s parliament (the Diet), as well as strong public support for the relationship among both
populations, according to opinion polls. Internationally, the two countries traditionally have
cooperated on scores of multilateral issues, from nuclear nonproliferation to climate change to
pandemics. Japan is a firm supporter of the United Nations as a forum for dealing with

1 White House readout of Biden-Suga phone call, January 27, 2021. Accessed at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-
2 “US and Japan to Start Contentious Talks Over Host-Nation Support,” Nikkei Asia, October 6, 2020.
33 “Japan, U.S. Arranging Suga-Biden Washington Summit on April 9: Source,” Kyodo News, March 30, 2021.
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Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress

international disputes and concerns. In the past Japan and the United States have worked closely
in fora such as the East Asia Summit and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
Regional Forum. The shared sense of working together to forge a rules- and norms-based
international order has long been a key component of the bilateral relationship, and one that
promises to be a ballast under new leadership.
Despite these efforts at continuity, the landscape has shifted over the past several years in ways
that might pressure Washington and Tokyo to adapt their relationship. The challenges and threats
from China and North Korea have grown sharper: North Korea has accelerated its nuclear
weapon and missile programs, and China’s economic strength and military capabilities have
grown significantly. Perennially difficult relations between Japan and South Korea have
drastically declinedsince 2018 as the disputes grew thornier, impeding trilateral cooperation with
the United States. Japanese leaders were dismayed when the United States withdrew from the
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact in 2017, and Japanese officials see little indication that
a Biden Administration will re-engage in a broad multilateral deal to counter Beijing’s economic
influence in the near term.4
Perhaps more fundamentally, Japan may be edging toward building a more autonomous defense,
while still insisting that the alliance with the United States is essential to its national security.
Trump’s skepticism of the value of the alliance with Japan may have exacerbated Japan’s
longstanding fears of U.S. abandonment. Many in Japan may worry that U.S. commitment to the
alliance could be impermanent, dependent on who is elected to the U.S. presidency. In addition,
Japanese concerns about the relative decline of U.S. power and presence in the region have risen.
Japan’s 2020 suspension of the purchase of two U.S. ballistic missile defense batteries and its
consideration of acquiring an independent strike capability (see “Alliance Issues” section below)
could be indications of its desire to be less dependent on U.S. protection, a shift that would alter
the structure of the alliance. In the United States, voices have re-emerged calling on Japan to
contribute more resources to its own defense.5 Japan caps its defense spending at around 1% of its
annual gross domestic product (GDP), a level it has maintained despite growing alarm among
Japanese policymakers about China’s increased military capabilities and assertiveness.
Regional Policy: Convergences and Differences
Japan and the United States share a fundamental and profound concern about China’s role in the
Indo-Pacific. Both governments distrust Beijing’s intentions and see China’s rising power and
influence as detrimental to their national security. This shared strategic vision tethers the alliance
and propels closer cooperation. Japan’s proximity to China heightens its concern, particularly
because of China’s expansive maritime claims and consistent activity on Japan’s southwestern
borders. Driven by its apprehension, Japan has developed stronger and more integrated defense
relations with Australia and India—also U.S. partners—that facilitates military engagement
through the Quad and other cooperative activities such as the annual Malabar naval exercises.
These multilateral efforts, which the Obama and Trump Administrations encouraged, reinforce
U.S.-Japan alliance cohesion and cement the focus on pushing back on China’s increasing power.
Differences remain, however, in how the United States and Japan shape their respective China
policies. Japanese officials are worried that the United States will not be forceful enough in

4 “It’s a ‘Hard Sell’ if Biden Administration Wants to Rejoin Massive Trans-Pacific Trade Deal, Says Analyst,” CNBC,
January 11, 2021.
5 Michael D. Swaine, Jessica J. Lee and Rachel Esplin Odell, Toward an Inclusive and Balanced Regional Order: A
New U.S. Strategy in East Asia
, The Quincy Institute, January 11, 2021, p. 46-47.
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Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress

confronting China—although its views may be assuaged by Biden’s stance toward China in his
initial days in office—yet also seeks to stabilize its own relationship with Beijing as an important
trading partner.6 Before the disruption of the pandemic, Japan had planned to welcome Chinese
President Xi Jinping for an official state visit, an indication of Japan’s outreach to China.
Growing concern about China’s intentions to invade Taiwan also raise questions about how and if
Japan would engage in a military conflict between China and the United States. Although Japan
over the past decade has enhanced its military capabilities and the legal powers to deploy them,
significant legal and political barriers would confront a Japanese leader who seeks to work in
tandem with U.S. military forces.
In engaging Southeast Asia as well, differences in approach could create gaps—and possibly
tension—between the United States and Japan. The Biden Administration pledges to emphasize
human rights and democracy promotion in its foreign policy. Japan has generally taken a different
approach to working with Southeast Asia, refraining from criticism of ASEAN countries’ internal
policies. In multilateral institutions and fora, some in the United States may expect Japan to
weigh in on issues such as evidence of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, repression of
freedom of expression in Vietnam, abuse of power by Thailand’s government, the suppression of
journalists in Cambodia, or the military coup in Burma. Japanese officials have expressed
concerns that more forceful criticism could jeopardize Japan’s position as a welcome presence to
most Southeast Asian countries. The response to the military coup in Burma and subsequent
violent crackdown on protesters in particular could present an early challenge to the cohesiveness
of U.S. and Japanese policies in the region.
Japanese Politics: The Transition From Abe to Suga
In August 2020, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that he would resign due to the
resurgence of a chronic health condition. Abe, the longest-serving premier in modern Japanese
history, had been in power since 2012, bringing unusual stability to Japanese politics and foreign
policy. In September 2020, Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) overwhelmingly voted
for his close advisor, Yoshihide Suga, to serve out Abe’s term as party president, which ends in
September 2021. Japan’s parliament, dominated by the LDP, elected Suga to serve as prime
Suga (born in 1948) has pledged to advance Abe’s initiatives, including revitalizing Japan’s
economy and supporting the U.S.-Japan alliance. Aside from combating COVID-19, he has said
his priorities are promoting administrative and structural reforms, such as creating a digitization
agency.7 Suga also faces the massive challenge of hosting the Summer Olympic Games,
postponed from 2020 as the pandemic spread. Widespread criticism of Suga’s handling of the
pandemic caused his approval ratings to fall below his disapproval ratings in most polls in late
2020 and early 2021. Although his approval numbers inched into positive territory in March
2021, the difficult start to his administration has raised questions about the longevity of his
premiership.8 Elections for the Diet’s Lower House, which selects the prime minister, must be
held by October 2021. If Suga’s relatively low poll numbers continue, the LDP may replace him

6 Mireya Solis, “China, Japan, and the Art of Economic Statecraft,” Brookings Institution, February 2020 and Eli Lake,
“The U.S. Talks Tough Before a Meeting With China,” Bloomberg Opinion, March 17, 2021.
7 Satoshi Sugiyama, “Suga Vows to Restore ‘Safety’ and ‘Hope’ amid Declining Approval Rate,” Japan Times,
January 18, 2021.
8 See, for example, “Kyodo News Opinion Poll and Results from Tokyo Shimbun,” Tokyo Shimbun, March 22, 2021,
U.S. Embassy Japan Media Highlights (JMH) Translation; “Opinion Poll and Results from Asahi Shimbun,” Asahi
Shimbun, March 22, 2021, JMH Translation.
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when his term as party president ends in September, if not before. (For more, see “Japanese
Stage One Trade Agreement in Force, Next Stage Uncertain
The Trump and Abe Administrations negotiated two limited trade agreements, which took effect
in early 2020, liberalizing some agricultural and industrial goods trade and establishing rules on
digital trade (see “U.S.-Japan Bilateral Trade Agreement Negotiations” below). By expanding
market access for U.S. agricultural exports to Japan and eliminating the threat of proposed new
U.S. tariffs on Japan’s auto exports, the deals addressed key concerns in both countries and
received broad stakeholder support. The agreements were enacted without approval from
Congress, however, prompting some debate among Members over the appropriate congressional
role. Given the relatively narrow scope of the agreements, their commercial and strategic impact
likely depends on whether a more comprehensive bilateral agreement can be achieved. The
Trump Administration promised but did not pursue such a second-stage trade deal, despite urging
from many in Congress and various stakeholders. The Biden Administration has not signaled
whether it will prioritize further talks with Japan, as a review of the Trump Administration’s trade
policies is ongoing.9
President Biden’s intention to focus on domestic economic priorities before negotiating new trade
deals suggests it may be some time before the two countries address significant issues left out of
the initial agreements (e.g., auto trade).10 The Administration also has emphasized the importance
of working with allies like Japan to meet the challenges posed by China.11 A key question is
whether the Administration might consider joining the Comprehensive and Progressive
Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) or TPP-11. After U.S. withdrawal from the
proposed TPP in 2017, Japan took the lead in negotiating revisions to the new CPTPP agreement
among the remaining 11 members, suspending certain commitments largely sought by the United
States. In November 2020, Japan also signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership
(RCEP), which will lower trade barriers among its 15 Asian members, including China, once it
takes effect.12 Some experts view these developments as reducing U.S. economic and strategic
influence in the Asia-Pacific and reinforcing a need to re-envision U.S. engagement in the

9 In response to questions submitted for her nomination hearing, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai
stated: “Japan is one of America’s most important trading partners and allies. If confirmed, I commit to undertaking a
detailed assessment of the current state of the U.S.-Japan trade relationship in light of the recent U.S.-Japan Trade
Agreement to determine the best path forward. Our strategic and economic relationship must remain strong in the face
of growing regional challenges.” U.S. Congress, Senate Finance Committee, Hearing to Consider the Nomination of
Katherine C. Tai, of the District of Columbia, to be United States Trade Representative, with the rank of Ambassador
Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary: Questions for the Record, 117th Cong., 1st sess., February 25, 2021.
10 See Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, The 2021 Trade Policy Agenda and 2020 Annual Report, March 2021.
11 “2021 Trade Policy Agenda and 2020 Annual Report of the President of the United States on the Trade Agreements
Program,” pg. 4. Accessed at https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/reports/2021/2021%20Trade%20Agenda/
12 CRS Insight IN11200, The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership: Status and Recent Developments, by
Cathleen D. Cimino-Isaacs and Michael D. Sutherland.
13 See, for example, Keigh Johnson, “While Trump Builds Tariff Walls, Asia Bets on Free Trade,” Foreign Policy,
November 1, 2019, and Peter A. Petri and Michael G. Plummer, “RCEP: A new trade agreement that will shape global
economics and politics,” Brookings Order From Chaos blog, November 16, 2020.
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Japan’s Relations with South Korea: A Chilly Impasse
Observers have called the current state of Japan-South Korea relations the worst in half a
century.14 Relations became bitter with Abe in power, driven by South Korean’s suspicion of
Abe’s past statements on the two countries’ contentious history and his affiliations with
nationalist organizations, as well by Japanese frustration that South Korean governments were
abandoning previously negotiated agreements intended to address bilateral conflicts. Although
Suga is not as strongly associated with the strand of nationalism that alludes to a revisionist view
of Japanese imperial history, a reset appears unlikely in the short term given the poor state of
current relations.
The state of relations is framed by the legacy of history, with current events causing the spike in
tension. Many Koreans hold strong grievances about Japan’s colonial rule over the peninsula
(1910-1945), especially on the issue of Korean so-called comfort women who were forced to
provide sex to Japanese soldiers in the World War II era.15 (See “Japan’s Ties with South Korea”
section for more background.) The current downward spiral in relations began in 2017, when
South Korea’s government took steps toward essentially halting implementation of a 2015
agreement with Japan concerning the comfort women. Relations deteriorated further in fall 2018,
when the South Korean Supreme Court ruled that Japanese companies (specifically Nippon Steel
and Sumitomo Metal Corp and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries) should compensate Koreans who
were forced to work in their factories during Japan’s occupation of the peninsula from 1910 to
1945. Tokyo objected, saying that the 1965 Japan-South Korean normalization treaty settled this
issue.16 In summer 2019, each government imposed trade restrictions on the other.
Bitter relations between Japan and South Korea dim prospects for effective trilateral cooperation
with the United States, particularly in responding to North Korean threats. This became clear in
2019 when South Korea—in the midst of the trade disputes with Japan—threatened to withdraw
from a bilateral military intelligence sharing agreement with Japan, spurring U.S. officials to
intervene and convincing Seoul to remain in the pact.17 Some Asia experts, arguing that the
downturn in Tokyo-Seoul relations jeopardizes U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific, criticized the
Trump Administration for not doing more to try to prevent relations from deteriorating.18
Secretary of State Antony Blinken played an active role in encouraging trilateral cooperation and
pushing Tokyo and Seoul to resolve differences as Obama’s Deputy Secretary of State,
suggesting that the Biden Administration may be more involved in fostering engagement among
its treaty allies.19 During Blinken and Austin’s March 2021 trip to Japan and South Korea, the
importance of trilateral cooperation and constructive Japan-South Korea relations were
emphasized in the published joint statements.20

14 “Japan-South Korea Ties ‘Worst in Five Decades’ as U.S. Leaves Alliance Untended,” Washington Post, February 9,
15 “South Korea and Japan: Resolving the Comfort Women Issue,” The Diplomat, September 10, 2020.
1616 “Korea and Japan Clash Over History and Law,” Lawfare, August 16, 2019.
1717 “Scrapped Intelligence Pact Draws United States Into Deepening South Korea-Japan Dispute,” Reuters, August 29,
18 Bonnie S. Glaser and Oriana Skylar Mastro, “How an Alliance System Withers,” Foreign Affairs, September 9,
2019, and Evan S. Medeiros, “There’s a Crisis Unfolding in Asia. The U.S. Is the Only Actor That Can Fix It,”
Washington Post, July 15, 2019.
19 “As Biden Seeks to Restore Alliances, a Souring Japan-South Korea Relationship Presents a Challenge,” Washington
, March 2, 2021.
20 “Joint Statement of the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee (2+2),” Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
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Climate Cooperation Poised to Increase
In contrast to President Trump, President Biden has pledged to make addressing climate change a
major priority in foreign policy. Suga has announced a net-zero emission goal by 205021, an
ambitious target given the percentage of coal in Japan’s current energy mix. The United States
may pressure Japan to increase its carbon reduction targets for its Paris agreement commitments
in order to support U.S. goals in international climate talks. Environment Minister Shinjiro
Koizumi, rising political star and son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, was recently
given the title of Minister of Climate Change in order to coordinate implementation Japan’s
climate goals among several ministries. Koizumi also advocates doubling the percentage of
renewables in Japan’s energy to 40% by 2030.22 Since the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear reactor
disaster prompted Tokyo to reduce its use of nuclear power, Japan has pursued a more coal-
intensive energy portfolio to make up for shortcomings in nuclear-energy power generation. An
area of tension between Japan and the United States could be Japan’s continued construction of
coal-generated power plants, both domestically and overseas, through its international assistance
program. (See “Energy and Environmental Issues” section below for more detail.)

March 16, 2021 (accessed at https://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/files/100161035.pdf.) and “Joint Statement of the 2021
Republic of Korea – United States Foreign and Defense Ministerial Meeting (“2+2”)” U.S. State Department, March
18, 2021 (accessed at https://www.state.gov/joint-statement-of-the-2021-republic-of-korea-united-states-foreign-and-
21 “Suga vows to meet Japan’s zero-emissions goal by 2050,” Nikkei Asia, October 26, 2020.
22 “Japan Minister Pushes for Doubling Renewables Target,” Carbon Pulse, December 17, 2020.
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Figure 1. Map of Japan

Source: Map Resources. Adapted by CRS.
Japan Country Data
Population: 124,687,293 (July 2021 est.)
Percentage of Population over 65: 29.18% (male 16,034,973/female 20,592,496) (2020 est.)
Life Expectancy: 85 years
Area: 377,835 sq km (slightly smaller than California)
Per Capita Real GDP: $41,429 (2019 est.)
Primary Export Partners: U.S. 19.4%, China 19%, South Korea 7.6%, Hong Kong 5.1%, Thailand 4.2% (2017)
Primary Import Partners: China 24.5%, U.S. 11%, Australia 5.8%, South Korea 4.2%, Saudi Arabia 4.1% (2017)

Source: CIA, The World Factbook, March 2021.
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Japan’s Foreign Policy
Abe’s legacy includes increasing Japan’s international clout through active outreach and
diplomacy. Suga has pledged to continue this effort, though his initial months have been
hampered by the travel limitations of the pandemic. Japan’s foreign policy is broadly shaped by
its security alliance with the United States and by its concern about China’s military and
economic power. Suga, like Abe before him, appears poised to continue to diversify Japan’s
international network of relations to pursue Japan’s interests.
Suga’s first trip abroad as Prime Minister was to Hanoi, Vietnam, underscoring his commitment
to Southeast Asia. Japan has focused on assisting Southeast Asian countries to develop their
maritime capabilities through training and sale of equipment. Suga has also reiterated Japan’s
interest in resolving a territorial dispute with Russia.23 Particularly as travel restrictions are eased,
Suga may look to build relationships with the European Union and NATO, further broadening
Japan’s international affairs.24
Japan-China Sovereignty Dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the
East China Sea
Japan, China, and Taiwan claim a group of uninhabited land features25 in the East China Sea
known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, Diaoyu in China, and Diaoyutai in Taiwan. The eight
small, uninhabited land features are administered by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan.
The Senkakus dispute has simmered for decades and first became a major source of discord in
China-Japan relations in 2010. Tensions have spiked multiple times since then, and although in
recent years Beijing and Tokyo have renewed efforts to deescalate tensions and avoid clashes, the
dispute has remained the focal point of an increasingly uneasy bilateral relationship.
In 2010, the Japan Coast Guard arrested and detained the captain of a Chinese fishing vessel after
it collided with two Japan Coast Guard ships near the Senkakus. The incident resulted in a
diplomatic standoff, with Beijing suspending high-level exchanges and restricting exports of rare
earth elements to Japan.26 In August 2012, the Japanese government purchased three of the five
land features from a private landowner in order to preempt their sale to Tokyo’s nationalist
governor at the time, Shintaro Ishihara.27 Claiming that this act amounted to “nationalization” and

23 Japan and the Soviet Union never signed a peace treaty following World War II due to a territorial dispute over four
islands north of Hokkaido in the Kuril Chain and to the Eisenhower Administration’s opposition to a settlement that
was nearly agreed upon in the 1950s. The islands are known in Japan as the Northern Territories and were seized by the
Soviets in the waning days of the war.
24 See, for example, Jeffrey Hornung, “Allies Growing Closer: Japan–Europe Security Ties in the Age of Strategic
Competition,” RAND Corporation, 2020.
25 Although the disputed territory commonly is referred to as “islands,” it is unclear if any of the features would meet
the definition of “island” under international law.
26 Rare earth elements, a category of minerals that are essential components in many high-tech goods, are crucial inputs
to many products manufactured in Japan. The export ban was particularly potent because China mines and exports
more than 90% of the world’s rare earth elements. Martin Fackler and Ian Johnson, “Arrest in Disputed Seas Riles
China and Japan,” New York Times, September 19, 2010, at https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/20/world/asia/
20chinajapan.html; Keith Bradsher, “Amid Tension, China Blocks Vital Exports to Japan,” New York Times,
September 22, 2010, at https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/23/business/global/23rare.html.
27 In April 2012, Ishihara announced in Washington, DC, that he intended to purchase three of the five islets from their
private Japanese owner. Ishihara, who is known for expressing nationalist views, called for demonstrating Japan’s
control over the islets by building installations on the island and raised nearly $20 million in private donations for the
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thus violated the tenuous status quo, Beijing issued sharp objections.28 Chinese citizens held
massive anti-Japan protests, and the resulting tensions led to a drop in Sino-Japanese trade. In
April 2013, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs publicly referred to the Senkaku Islands as
“pertain[ing] to China’s core interests,” indicating to many analysts that Beijing was unlikely to
make concessions on this sensitive sovereignty issue.29
Starting in the fall of 2012, China began regularly deploying maritime law enforcement ships
near the islands and stepped up what it called “routine” patrols to assert jurisdiction in “China’s
territorial waters.”30 In 2013, near-daily encounters between Chinese and Japanese law
enforcement vessels occasionally escalated: both countries scrambled fighter jets, and, according
to the Japanese government, a Chinese navy ship locked its fire-control radar on a Japanese
destroyer and helicopter on two separate occasions.31 The number of Chinese vessels entering the
territorial seas32 surrounding the islands in the years 2013-2020 ranged from zero to 28 per month
(and averaged 9.2 per month). While the average number of Chinese vessels entering the
territorial sea decreased from 2019 (average of 10.5 per month) to 2020 (average of 7.3 per
month), the average number of vessels entering the contiguous zone—a zone extending an
additional 12 nautical miles out from the outer edge of the territorial sea—increased markedly
during that time.33 Chinese ships also loitered in these areas with greater frequency in 2020,
resulting in a more pervasive presence;34 according to the Japanese government, in 2020, Chinese
government vessels entered the contiguous zone on 333 days, a record.35 Most of these patrols
appear to be conducted by the China Coast Guard, which has been instrumental in advancing
China’s interests in disputed waters in the East and South China Seas.36 In 2016, for example,
several China Coast Guard vessels escorted between 200 and 300 Chinese fishing vessels to

purchase. In September, the central government purchased the three islets for ¥2.05 billion (about $26 million at an
exchange rate of ¥78:$1) to block Ishihara’s move and reduce tension with China.
28 China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of
China,” September 10, 2012, at https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/topics_665678/diaodao_665718/t968188.shtml;
Kiyoshi Takenaka and Sui-Lee Wee, “Japan infuriates China by agreeing to buy disputed isles,” Reuters, September
10, 2012, at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-japan/japan-infuriates-china-by-agreeing-to-buy-disputed-isles-
29 NHK World video clip, “China says Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea as its ‘core interest,’” posted by
ViralNewsonLive, April 26, 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxzYG1pXahE. The transcript of the April press
conference revised the spokesperson’s remarks to make the reference to core interests less direct. Michael D. Swaine,
“Chinese Views Regarding the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute,” China Leadership Monitor, no. 41 (Spring 2013), pp.
30 “Chinese Ships Continue Patrol Around Diaoyu Island,” China Daily, October 28, 2012.
31 Martin Fackler, “Japan Says China Aimed Military Radar at Ship,” New York Times, February 5, 2013, at
32 According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, coastal states are entitled to a “territorial sea,” a
12-nautical-mile area extending from the low-water line along a coast. The sovereignty of a coastal state extends to this
territorial sea. U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, Part II: Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone.
33 Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Trends in Chinese Government and Other Vessels in the Waters Surrounding the
Senkaku Islands, and Japan’s Response—Records of Intrusions of Chinese Government and Other Vessels into Japan’s
Territorial Sea,” updated February 12, 2021, at https://www.mofa.go.jp/region/page23e_000021.html.
34 Mike Mochizuki and Jiaxiu Han, “Is China Escalating Tensions with Japan in the East China Sea?” The Diplomat,
September 16, 2020, at https://thediplomat.com/2020/09/is-china-escalating-tensions-with-japan-in-the-east-china-sea/.
35 Japan Times, “Japan braces for moves in East China Sea after China Coast Guard law,” February 1, 2021, at
36 U.S. Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s
Republic of China 2018
, May 16, 2018, pp. 71-72; Ryan D. Martinson, “Echelon Defense: The Role of Sea Power in
Chinese Maritime Dispute Strategy,” U.S. Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, 2018, pp. 16-17.
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waters near the Senkakus in an apparent demonstration of Chinese sovereignty, prompting
renewed friction.37
These patrols exemplify how the dispute over the Senkakus has played out primarily in the “gray
zone,” or the ambiguous space between peace and conflict, with nonmilitary actors like coast
guards, fishermen, and China’s maritime militia on the front lines. China’s approach to the
dispute (as well as its disputes in the South China Sea) appears to be aimed at exploiting the gray
zone to gradually consolidate its control and influence over contested space without escalating to
armed conflict.38 Some observers, including officials in the U.S. and Japanese governments, are
concerned that China’s new Coast Guard Law, effective from February 1, 2021, could raise the
risk of hostilities by empowering and emboldening the China Coast Guard to employ more
coercive tactics near the Senkakus. The new law provides for the China Coast Guard to use force
against foreign actors infringing on China’s perceived rights in undefined “jurisdictional
waters.”39 Japan has prioritized enhancing its ability to counter gray zone activities, in addition to
strengthening its traditional military capabilities.40
China-Japan tensions have played out in the airspace above and around the Senkakus as well. The
government of Japan reported that scrambles by Japan Air Self Defense Force aircraft against
“Chinese aircraft” increased eightfold between Fiscal Year 2010 (96 scrambles) and 2016 (851
scrambles). The number of scrambles have declined from the FY2016 peak in subsequent years,
ranging from 500 to 675 through FY2019.41 In November 2013, China abruptly established an air
defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea covering the Senkakus as well as
airspace that overlaps with the existing ADIZs of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. The U.S. and
other regional governments criticized China’s announcement of the ADIZ, arguing that it
escalated tensions in the region, undermined diplomacy, and could raise the potential for
accidents stemming from frequent interceptions by fighter aircraft in overlapping ADIZs.42

37 Lyle J. Morris, “The New ‘Normal’ in the East China Sea,” RAND Corporation, February 27, 2017, at
https://www.rand.org/blog/2017/02/the-new-normal-in-the-east-china-sea.html. Although the Chinese navy tends to
operate along the East China Sea median line, where they could respond if Japan dispatches its Maritime Self-Defense
Force (MSDF) vessels to the area, Chinese naval vessels, including submarines, have occasionally operated within 24
nautical miles of the Senkakus since 2016. Japan Ministry of Defense, “China’s Activities in East China Sea, Pacific
Ocean, and Sea of Japan,” updated March 2021; Tetsuo Kotani, “China’s Military and Paramilitary Activities in the
East China Sea: Trends and Assessments for the U.S.-Japan Alliance,” in Jonathan W. Greenert et al., “Navigating
Contested Waters: U.S.-Japan Alliance Coordination in the East China Sea,” NBR Asia Policy, vol. 15, no. 3, July
38 Patrick Cronin et al., “No Safe Harbor: Countering Aggression in the East China Sea,” Center for a New American
Security, March 2018; Adam P. Liff, “China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations in the East China Sea and Japan’s
Response,” China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, forthcoming, 2019).
39 NPC Observer, “Coast Guard Law,” at https://npcobserver.com/legislation/coast-guard-law/; Maritime Awareness
Project, “Voices: The Chinese Maritime Police Law,” February 11, 2021, at https://maritimeawarenessproject.org/
2021/02/11/voices-the-chinese-maritime-police-law/; Ryan D. Martinson, “Gauging the real risks of China’s new
coastguard law,” February 23, 2021, at https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/gauging-the-real-risks-of-chinas-new-
coastguard-law/; U.S. Department of State, “Department Press Briefing – February 19, 2021,” February 19, 2021, at
https://www.state.gov/briefings/department-press-briefing-february-19-2021/; Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
“Japan and the United States Hold Bilateral Security Discussions,” March 4, 2021, at https://www.mofa.go.jp/press/
40 Japan Ministry of National Defense, “National Defense Program Guidelines for FY2014 and Beyond,” December 17,
2013, pp. 1-2, 7, 9, 13-14, 23.
41 Japan Ministry of Defense, “China’s Activities in East China Sea, Pacific Ocean, and Sea of Japan,” updated March
2021. Japan’s fiscal year begins on April 1 and ends on March 31 the following year.
42 U.S. Department of Defense, “Statement by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on the East China Sea Air Defense
Identification Zone,” November 23, 2013; U.S. State Department, “Statement on the East China Sea Air Defense
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Japan’s administration of the Senkakus is the basis of the U.S. treaty commitment to defend that
territory. U.S. administrations going back at least to the Nixon Administration have stated that the
United States takes no position on the territorial disputes. However, it also has been U.S. policy
since 1972 that the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty covers the Senkakus, because Article 5 of the
treaty stipulates that the United States is bound to protect “the territories under the Administration
of Japan,” and Japan administers the Senkakus.43 In its own attempt to address this perceived gap
between U.S. official neutrality on the sovereignty question and its support for Japan against
China’s attempts to change the status quo, Congress inserted in the FY2013 (P.L. 112-239) and
FY2018 National Defense Authorization Acts (H.R. 4310, P.L. 112-239) a resolution stating,
among other items, that “the unilateral action of a third party will not affect the United States’
acknowledgment of the administration of Japan over the Senkaku Islands.”44
U.S. officials have stated that the United States will support Japan’s ability to continue to
administer the islands in the face of China’s actions. For example, U.S. Forces Japan Commander
Kevin Schneider said in 2020 that in response to China’s “unprecedented” activities in the East
China Sea, “The United States is 100 percent absolutely steadfast in its commitment to help the
government of Japan with the situation.”45
China and Japan also dispute maritime rights in the East China Sea more broadly, with Japan
arguing for a “median line” equidistant from each country’s claimed territorial border dividing
the two countries’ exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea; China rejects Japan’s claimed
median line, arguing that it has maritime rights beyond this line.46
The Quad Signals Broader Approach
In 2017, the Trump Administration renewed an effort to develop the Quadrilateral Security
Dialogue, also known as “the Quad,” a four-country coalition with a common platform of
protecting freedom of navigation and promoting democratic values in the region. The Biden
Administration has adopted the initiative vigorously, convening a virtual leader-level meeting
with Japan, Australia, and India in March 2021. At this summit the leaders announced a promise
to jointly expand availability of COVID-19 vaccines and deliver up to a billion doses to Southeast

Identification Zone,” November 23, 2013; Yoichi Kato, “INTERVIEW/ Evan Medeiros: China’s Attempt to Isolate
Japan Worsens Bilateral Relations,” Asahi Shimbun, April 6, 2014; Cabinet Office of Japan, New National Defense
Program Guidelines for FY2014 and Beyond (Provisional Translation)
, December 17, 2013; “Korea Calls for Re-
drawing of Air Zone, China Rejects,” Arirang News, transcript of television news report,
November 30, 2013, http://www.arirang.co.kr/News/News_View.asp?nseq=153704.
43 Speaking in Japan in April 2014, President Obama stated that “Article 5 covers all territories under Japan’s
administration, including the Senkaku Islands,” in what is believed to be the first time a U.S. President publically stated
the U.S. position. The White House, “Joint Press Conference with President Obama and Prime Minister Abe of Japan,”
Akasaka Palace, Tokyo, Japan, April 24, 2014.
44 For more information, see CRS Report R42761, The Senkakus (Diaoyu/Diaoyutai) Dispute: U.S. Treaty Obligations,
by Mark E. Manyin, and CRS Report R42930, Maritime Territorial Disputes in East Asia: Issues for Congress, by Ben
Dolven, Mark E. Manyin, and Shirley A. Kan.
45 Tim Kelly, “U.S. says will help Japan monitor ‘unprecedented’ Chinese incursion around disputed East China Sea
islands,” Reuters, July 29, 2020, at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-defence-japan/u-s-says-will-help-japan-
46 According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, coastal states are entitled to an “exclusive
economic zone” extending no further than 200 nautical miles in which it enjoys sovereign rights to explore and exploit
living and nonliving resources, among other things. U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, Part V: Exclusive
Economic Zone. Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Japan’s Legal Position on the Development of Natural in the East
China Sea,” August 6, 2015, at https://www.mofa.go.jp/a_o/c_m1/page3e_000358.html.
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Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific by the end of 2022.47 This step, along with a plan to reduce
dependence on China’s near-monopoly on rare earth materials used in high-technology products
and to work together to strengthen the Paris Agreement, could usher in a new chapter in
cooperation. Questions remain about the durability of the arrangement if leadership shifts in
member countries, whether other countries will be brought into the Quad’s initiatives, and
particularly about India’s inconsistent enthusiasm for the grouping. For now, however, distrust of
Beijing’s role in the region has consolidated the Quad.
Japan has been at the forefront of pursuing the quadrilateral arrangement, with former Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe (2012-2020) in particular championing the concept. Japan’s eagerness to
pursue the Quad appears driven above all by its concern over China’s increasing power,
influence, and assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. In theory, engaging India eastward could
compel Beijing to divert some of its resources and attention to the Indian Ocean.
Japan has also worked steadily to build closer bilateral security ties with both Australia and India.
For the past decade Japan has deepened defense relations with Australia, and in 2020 the two
agreed to a Reciprocal Access Agreement (similar to a Status of Forces Agreement) to define
rules and procedures when troops are stationed temporarily in the other’s country for joint
exercises or disaster-relief activities. As another U.S. treaty ally, Australia uses similar practices
and equipment, which may make cooperation with Japan more accessible. Japan has inked an
Acquisition and Cross-servicing Agreement (the formal mechanism that allows a country to
acquire or provide logistic support, supplies, and services directly from/to another country) with
India, along with agreements concerning the protection of classified military information and
transfer of defense equipment and technology. Bilateral exercises with both countries have grown
in number and sophistication.
Leaders in Tokyo may find the absence of South Korea an additional advantage of the
quadrilateral grouping. Tokyo and Seoul often have been at odds and resistant to U.S.
encouragement of closer trilateral cooperation among the United States, Japan, and South Korea.
The Quad provides another venue for Japan’s Self Defense Forces to increase security exercises
with the U.S. military.
Japan and the Korean Peninsula
Japan’s Ties with South Korea
In the 21st century, Japan’s relationship with South Korea has fluctuated between troubled and
tentatively cooperative, depending on external circumstances and the leaders in power.48 After a
brief entente in 2016, Japan-South Korea relations cooled and then sharply deteriorated beginning
in 2017. A series of security incidents, a 2018 South Korean court decision on forced Korean
labor used during the World War II era that appeared to renege on the 1965 normalization treaty,
and a volley of restrictions on bilateral trade plunged the relationship into hostile territory. In
2019, Seoul announced a decision to withdraw from the Japan-South Korea military intelligence
agreement, or GSOMIA, which would have put constraints on U.S.-Japan-South Korea security
cooperation. U.S. officials intervened, and Seoul decided to remain in the agreement. In the

47 “Quad Leaders’ Joint Statement: “The Spirit of the Quad,” The White House, March 12, 2021.
48 Sungtae Jacky Park, “Is South Korea Pro-China and Anti-Japan? It’s Complicated.” National Interest, August 2,
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context of lingering distrust and outstanding issues, however, trilateral cooperation remains very
Relations remain chilly in 2021, but less openly contentious. The Biden Administration is seeking
to “reinvigorate and modernize” both alliances, and senior Administration officials have
expressed hope that this effort will include more trilateral cooperation.49 When Secretary Blinken
and Secretary Austin visited Tokyo and Seoul in March 2021, they pressed the issue in both
capitals.50 Washington has generally encouraged closer ties between Tokyo and Seoul as two of
its most important alliance partners; the two countries have shared security concerns, developed
economies, and a commitment to open markets, international rules and norms, and regional
stability. A poor relationship between Seoul and Tokyo jeopardizes U.S. interests by complicating
trilateral cooperation on North Korea policy and on responding to China’s rise.
The North Korean threat has traditionally driven closer trilateral coordination, even when Tokyo
and Seoul have faced bilateral political tension. Under North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, North
Korea’s consistent provocations from 2011 to 2017 provided both the motivation and the political
room for South Korea and Japan to forge more cooperative stances, despite lingering mutual
distrust. Under President Moon Jae-in, however, South Korea has strived for warmer relations
with North Korea. When President Trump also focused on personal diplomacy with Kim Jong-un
and North Korea maintained a moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear weapon testing,
opportunities for coordinated action and statements among Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul shrank,
as Japanese officials maintained a harder line on pressing North Korea on its political and
security concerns.
The persistent Japan-South Korea discord centers in part on historical issues. Officials in Japan
have expressed frustration that for years South Korean leaders have not recognized and in some
cases have rejected the efforts Japan has made to acknowledge and apologize for Imperial Japan’s
actions during the 35 years following its annexation of the Korean Peninsula in 1910. In addition
to the comfort women issue (see below), the perennial issues of how Japan’s behavior before and
during World War II is depicted in Japanese school textbooks and a territorial dispute between
Japan and South Korea continue to periodically rile relations. Seoul has expressed disapproval of
some of the history textbooks approved by Japan’s Ministry of Education that South Koreans
claim diminish or whitewash Japan’s colonial-era atrocities. A group of small islands in the Sea of
Japan, known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese (the U.S. government refers to
them as the Liancourt Rocks), are administered by South Korea but claimed by Japan. Japanese
statements about the claim in defense documents or by local prefectures routinely spark official
criticism and public outcry in South Korea.
Comfort Women Issue
A perennial stumbling block to better Japan-South Korean relations involves the “comfort
women,” a literal translation of the Japanese euphemism referring to women who were forced to
provide sexual services for Japanese soldiers during the imperial military’s conquest and
colonization of several Asian countries in the 1930s and 1940s. In 2015, then-Prime Minister Abe
and then-President Park Geun-hye of South Korea concluded an agreement that included a new
apology from Abe and the provision of 1 billion yen (about $8.3 million) from the Japanese

49 “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance,” The White House, March 2021.
50 “In Countering China, U.S. Pitches South Korea a Sensitive Effort Involving Japan,” Washington Post, March 17,
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government to a new Korean foundation that supports surviving victims.51 The two governments’
foreign ministers agreed that this long-standing bilateral rift would be “finally and irreversibly
resolved” pending the Japanese government’s implementation of the agreement.52 Although the
main elements of the agreement appeared to have been implemented in 2016, the deal remained
deeply unpopular with the South Korean public,53 and Moon Jae-in disbanded the foundation
established by the agreement in 2018.
The comfort women issue has had visibility in the United States, due in part to Korean-American
activist groups. These groups have pressed successfully for the erection of monuments in
California and New Jersey commemorating the victims, passage of a resolution on the issue by
the New York State Senate, the naming of a city street in the New York City borough of Queens
in honor of the victims, and approval to erect a memorial to the comfort women in San Francisco.
In 2007, U.S. House of Representatives passed H.Res. 121 (110th Congress), calling on the
Japanese government to “formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in
... an unequivocal manner” for forcing young women into military prostitution.
Japan’s North Korea Policy
Japan has employed a hardline policy toward North Korea, including a virtual embargo on all
bilateral trade and vocal leadership at the United Nations on efforts to punish Pyongyang for its
human rights abuses and military provocations. Japan is directly threatened by North Korea,
given the demonstrated capability of Pyongyang’s medium-range missiles; in 2017, North Korea
twice tested missiles that flew over Japanese territory. North Korea has long-standing animosity
toward Japan for its colonialism of the Korean peninsula in the early 20th century. In addition,
U.S. bases in Japan could be targeted by the North Koreans.
In addition to these direct security concerns, Japan has prioritized addressing the long-standing
issue of Japanese citizens kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s by North Korean agents. In 2002,
then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il admitted to the abductions and returned five survivors,
claiming the others had perished from natural causes. Japan officially identifies 17 individuals as
abductees, and says that relations can never be normalized without resolution of this issue.54
Coordination between Japan and the United States on North Korean policy has fluctuated
depending on the approach taken by different U.S. leaders. In general, when the United States has
engaged North Korea with diplomacy, Japanese leaders have expressed concern that the abductee
issue does not receive sufficient attention. Under the Trump Administration, Tokyo stood by
Trump’s initial “maximum pressure” approach; when Trump turned to personal diplomacy with
Kim Jong-un, Japanese officials worried that the United States would make a deal on long-range
missiles, leaving Japan vulnerable. Many Japanese are unconvinced that North Korea will give up
its nuclear weapons or missiles and fear that Tokyo’s interests vis-à-vis Pyongyang will be
marginalized if U.S.-North Korea relations warm.55 When the Six-Party Talks (which included
Japan, South Korea, North Korea, China, Russia, and the United States) were active, U.S.
officials considered Japan a key actor in a possible resolution of problems on the Korean

51 In contrast to past apologies from Japanese Prime Ministers that were made in their personal capacities, then Foreign
Minister Fumio Kishida stated that Abe’s apology was issued in his capacity “as Prime Minister of Japan.”
52 South Korean and Japanese Foreign Ministries’ translations of the December 28, 2015, joint announcement.
53 “6 Months Later: The ‘Comfort Women’ Agreement,” The Diplomat, May 11, 2016.
54 Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, https://www.mofa.go.jp/region/asia-paci/n_korea/abduction/index.html.
55 Robert King, “Japan and North Korea: Summitry, Missile Fears, and Abductions,” Center for Strategic and
International Affairs, June 19, 2019.
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peninsula, but the multilateral format has been dormant since 2009 and appears to be all but
U.S. World-War II-Era Prisoners of War (POWs)
For decades, U.S. soldiers who were held captive by Imperial Japan during World War II have
sought official apologies from the Japanese government for their treatment. A number of
Members of Congress have supported these campaigns. The brutal conditions of Japanese POW
camps have been widely documented.56 In May 2009, the Japanese Ambassador to the United
States attended the last convention of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor to
deliver a cabinet-approved apology for their suffering and abuse. In 2010, with the support and
encouragement of the Obama Administration, the Japanese government financed a
Japanese/American POW Friendship Program for former American POWs and their immediate
family members to visit Japan, receive an apology from the sitting Foreign Minister and other
Japanese Cabinet members, and travel to the sites of their POW camps. Annual trips were held
from 2010 to 2017.57
In the past, Congress has introduced several resolutions that thank the government of Japan for its
apology and for arranging the visitation program.58 The resolutions also encouraged the Japanese
government to do more for the U.S. POWs, including by continuing and expanding the visitation
programs as well as its World War II education efforts. They also called for Japanese companies
to apologize for their or their predecessor firms’ use of un- or inadequately compensated forced
laborers during the war. In July 2015, Mitsubishi Materials Corporation (a member of the
Mitsubishi Group) became the first major Japanese company to apologize to U.S. POWs on
behalf of its predecessor firm, which ran several POW camps that incarcerated over 1,000
Energy and Environmental Issues
Unlike security cooperation, which has reflected continuity across recent U.S. and Japanese
governments, U.S.-Japan cooperation on energy, environmental, and climate issues has been more
prone to shifts reflecting changing priorities by U.S. and Japanese political leaders. During the
Obama Administration, Japan and the United States cooperated on a wide range of environmental
and climate initiatives, both bilaterally through multiple agencies and through multilateral
organizations. During the Trump Administration, U.S.-Japan energy and environmental
cooperation shifted away from climate change towards regional energy security in service of the
two countries’ shared interest in a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” Many observers expect that the

56 By various estimates, approximately 40% of prisoners held in the Japanese camps died in captivity, compared to 1%-
3% of the U.S. prisoners in Nazi Germany’s POW camps. Thousands more died in transit to the camps, most
notoriously in the 1942 “Bataan Death March,” in which the Imperial Japanese military force-marched almost 80,000
starving, sick, and injured Filipino and U.S. troops over 60 miles to prison camps in the Philippines. For more, see out-
of-print CRS Report RL30606, U.S. Prisoners of War and Civilian American Citizens Captured and Interned by Japan
in World War II: The Issue of Compensation by Japan
, by Gary Reynolds (available to congressional clients from the
coauthors of this report).
57 For more on the program, see http://www.us-japandialogueonpows.org/. Since the mid-1990s, Japan has run similar
programs for the POWs of other Allied countries.
58 S.Res. 333 (Feinstein) was introduced and passed by unanimous consent on November 17, 2011. H.Res. 324 (Honda)
and H.Res. 333 (Honda) were introduced on June 22, 2011, and June 24, 2011, respectively, and referred to the House
Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.
59 “Mitsubishi Materials Apologizes for Using US Prisoners of War as Slave Labor,” The Guardian. July 19, 2015.
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Biden Administration will pressure Japan to take more ambitious steps to combat climate
change.60 Climate change topics, including cooperating to expand the adoption of clean energy
technologies across the Indo-Pacific, was a top issue discussed during Secretary of State
Blinken’s March 2021 trip to Tokyo.61 During the Trump Administration, the two governments
committed to cooperating on regional infrastructure projects, including by “promoting open and
competitive energy markets, fostering business-to-business connections, and achieving regional
energy sector integration.”62 Projects under these frameworks have included LNG value chain
training programs for Indo-Pacific countries, facilitating “sustainable financing” of regional
Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) projects, and facilitating cooperation on energy projects between
U.S. and Japanese private companies in Indonesia, Bangladesh, and elsewhere.63 Outside the
region, the two countries since 2016 have signed two memoranda of cooperation to increase
access to “sustainable energy” in Sub-Saharan Africa.64
In particular, the Trump and Abe governments focused energy cooperation efforts in the LNG
sector, where the two countries have complementary interests. Both governments foresee LNG
contributing to their respective energy security needs, and the sector emerged as a priority area of
cooperation in recent years.65 Japan, which is dependent on imports for the vast majority of its
energy needs, is the world’s largest LNG buyer and the third-largest destination for U.S. LNG
exports,66 while the United States is the world’s third-largest LNG exporter, set to become the top
exporter by 2024.67 In addition to cooperating on LNG projects in third countries, Japanese
companies are invested in U.S. LNG projects, and Japan is increasing its imports of U.S. LNG.
Since 2016, Japan has pursued a strategy to establish itself as a regional LNG trading and pricing

60 Sayo Sasaki, “FOCUS: Biden likely to push Japan to do more to combat climate change,” Kyodo News, November
12, 2020, at https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2020/11/cbd1bb22b283-focus-biden-likely-to-push-japan-to-do-more-
61 For example, see State Department Media Note, “The United States and Japan Expand Indo-Pacific Economic
Cooperation,” March 16, 2021.
62 The White House, “U.S.-Japan Joint Statement on Advancing a Free and Open Indo-Pacific Through Energy,
Infrastructure and Digital Connectivity Cooperation,” November 13, 2018. Two major mechanisms for operationalizing
these overarching goals were the Japan-United States Strategic Energy Partnership (JUSEP), established in 2017, and
the Trump Administration’s Asia-EDGE (Enhancing Development and Growth through Energy) initiative—one of the
economic and commercial pillars of the Administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy announced in July 2018. U.S.
Department of State, “Advancing a Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” July 30, 2018, at https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/
2018/07/284829.htm; U.S. Trade and Development Agency, “USTDA Engages with Japan on Quality Infrastructure
Development,” October 4, 2018.
63 The White House, “U.S.-Japan Joint Statement on Advancing a Free and Open Indo-Pacific Through Energy,
Infrastructure and Digital Connectivity Cooperation,” November 13, 2018; U.S. Department of State, “Joint Statement
on Japan-United States Strategic Energy Partnership,” March 19, 2019.
64 U.S. Agency for International Development, “The United States and Japan Renew Commitment to Energy
Cooperation in Sub-Saharan Africa,” March 29, 2019.
65 “U.S., Japan to Cooperate on LNG Projects Throughout Asia,” Natural Gas Intelligence, April 24, 2018.
66 Export.gov, “Japan—Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG),” September 6, 2019.
67 International Energy Agency, Gas 2019: Analysis and Forecasts to 2024, June 7, 2019, https://www.iea.org/gas2019/
68 Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, “METI Publicized the Strategy for LNG Market Development at
the G7 Energy Ministerial Meeting in Kitakyushu,” May 2, 2016; Yohei Katakawa, “U.S.-Japan Cooperation Under the
‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ and Japan’s Energy Security,” Council on Foreign Relations CogitAsia Blog, April 9,
2019; Jiji, “LNG Production Begins in U.S. Project Financed by Mitsui, Mitsubishi and Others,” May 15, 2019.
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Japanese officials expressed dismay over President Trump’s 2017 decision to withdraw the
United States from the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris
Agreement, an international climate accord designed to reduce global emissions. Tokyo
welcomed the Biden Administration’s return to it in early 2021, saying, “In cooperation with the
United States, including in the field of advanced technology, Japan will continue to lead the
international community in order to realize a decarbonized society that the Paris Agreement aims

69 Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “US Announcement of its return to the Paris Agreement (Statement by Foreign
Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu),” January 21, 2021, at https://www.mofa.go.jp/press/danwa/press6e_000267.html;
Jonathan Watts and Kate Connolly, “World Leaders React After Trump Rejects Climate Deal,” The Guardian, June 1,
2017, at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/01/trump-withdraw-paris-climate-deal-world-leaders-
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Japan’s March 2011 “Triple Disaster”
In March 2021, Japan observed the ten-year anniversary of what it refers to as the “triple disaster.” On March 11,
2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake jolted a wide swath of Honshu, Japan’s largest island, shifting it eastward
approximately 8 feet.70 The quake, with an epicenter located about 230 miles northeast of Tokyo, generated a
tsunami that exceeded 100 feet in height in some areas and pounded Honshu’s northeastern coast, causing
widespread destruction in Miyagi, Iwate, Ibaraki, and Fukushima prefectures. Some 20,000 lives were lost, and
entire towns were washed away; over 500,000 homes and other buildings and around 3,600 roads were damaged
or destroyed. Up to half-a-mil ion Japanese people were displaced. Damage to several reactors at the Fukushima
Dai-ichi nuclear power plant complex led the government to declare a state of emergency and evacuate nearly
80,000 residents within a 20-kilometer radius due to dangerous radiation levels.
Japan’s response to the multifaceted disaster received widespread praise. Over 100,000 troops from the Self
Defense Forces (SDF), Japan’s military, were deployed quickly to the region. After rescuing nearly 20,000
individuals in the first week, the troops turned to a humanitarian relief mission in the displaced communities.
Construction of temporary housing began a week after the quake. Foreign commentators marveled at Japanese
citizens’ calm resilience, the lack of looting, and the orderly response to the strongest earthquake in the nation’s
modern history.71 Japan’s preparedness—strict building codes, a tsunami warning system that alerted many to seek
higher ground, and years of public dril s—likely saved tens of thousands of lives.
Appreciation for the U.S.-Japan alliance among the Japanese public surged after the two militaries worked
effectively together to respond to the earthquake and tsunami.72 Years of joint training and many interoperable
assets facilitated the integrated alliance effort. “Operation Tomodachi,” using the Japanese word for “friend,” was
the first time that SDF helicopters used U.S. aircraft carriers to respond to a crisis. The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft
carrier provided a platform for air operations as well as a refueling base for SDF and Japan Coast Guard
helicopters. Other U.S. vessels transported SDF troops and equipment to the disaster-stricken areas. For the first
time, U.S. military units operated under Japanese command in actual operations.
Ten years after the disaster, Japan is stil struggling to recover in many respects. Notwithstanding reconstruction
efforts worth $280 bil ion, more than 40,000 residents remain displaced from their homes and workplaces located
in stil -contaminated areas.73 Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the firm that owns and operates the
Fukushima power plant, has struggled to find a radioactive waste disposal solution and anticipates that it could take
until 2051 to decommission the plant, at the estimated cost of around $750 bil ion.74 TEPCO continues to attract
the ire of Japanese citizens, and has faced several lawsuits for its role in the disaster. A September 2019 court
ruling acquitted three former TEPCO executives of criminal negligence.75 More generally, opinion pol ing suggests
that many Japanese citizens believe the government has not sufficiently addressed the vulnerabilities exposed by
the disaster to justify the continued pursuit of nuclear energy and are opposed to the government’s plans to
expand the use of nuclear energy; pol s suggest that close to half of the population believes the government has
not gained public trust on the issue of nuclear energy.76
Nuclear Energy Policy
Japan is undergoing a national debate over the future of nuclear power, with major implications
for businesses operating in Japan, U.S.-Japan nuclear energy cooperation, and nuclear safety and

70 “Ten Years After the Tsunami,” Earth Observatory, March 12, 2021. Accessed at https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/
71 “Japanese, Waiting in Line for Hours, Follow Social Order After Quake,” ABC News, March 14, 2011.
7272 Michael Bosack, “3/11 Was Pivotal for the Japan-U.S. Alliance,” Japan Times Commentary, March 10, 2021.
73 Associated Press, “Still Recovering, Japan Marks 10 Years Since Tsunami Hit,” March 11, 2021, at
74 Ben Asione, “Japan still grappling with the legacy of Fukushima a decade on,” Australian National University
Australia-Japan Research Centre, https://ajrc.crawford.anu.edu.au/department-news/18594/japan-still-grappling-legacy-
75 Ben Dooley et al., “Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Trial Ends with Acquittals of 3 Executives,” New York Times,
September 19, 2019.
76 Tatsujiro Suzuki, “Legacy of the Fukushima nuclear disaster,” East Asia Forum, March 7, 2021, at
https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2021/03/07/legacy-of-the-fukushima-nuclear-disaster/; Kaoru Ohno, “Japanese Opinion
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nonproliferation measures worldwide. Prior to 2011, nuclear power was providing roughly 30%
of Japan’s power generation capacity, and the 2006 “New National Energy Strategy” had set out a
goal of significantly increasing Japan’s nuclear power generating capacity. However, the policy of
expanding nuclear power was abruptly reversed in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011, natural
disasters and meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. Public trust in the safety
of nuclear power appeared to collapse, and a vocal antinuclear political movement emerged.77
This movement tapped into an undercurrent of antinuclear sentiment in modern Japanese society
based on its legacy as the victim of atomic bombing in 1945. As the nation’s 54 nuclear reactors
were shut down one by one for their annual safety inspections in the months after March 2011,
the Japanese government did not restart them for several years (except a temporary reactivation of
two reactors at one site in central Japan). No reactors were operating from September 2013 until
August 2015. As of January 2021, four reactors were in operation.78
The drawdown of nuclear power generation resulted in many short- and long-term consequences
for Japan: rising electricity costs for residences and businesses; heightened risk of blackouts in
the summer, especially in the Kansai region near Osaka and Kyoto; widespread energy
conservation efforts by businesses, government agencies, and ordinary citizens; significant losses
for and near-bankruptcy of major utility companies; and increased fossil fuel imports. Japan’s
Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry estimated the direct cost of decommissioning the
Fukushima Dai-ichi plant and compensation of victims to be $187 billion, and the cost of fossil
fuel imports to replace power from subsequently shutdown reactors to be $31.3 billion in FY2013
alone.79 The Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, calculated that the nuclear shutdowns led to
the loss of 420,000 jobs in 2012.80
The Abe administration released a Strategic Energy Plan in July 2018 that, like the preceding
2014 plan, identifies nuclear power as an “important base-load power source.” Though the 2018
plan indicated Japan would reduce dependency on nuclear power “as much as possible,” it did not
revise the government’s 2015 goal for nuclear energy to account for 20-22% of Japan’s power
supply by 2030.81 The 2018 strategic plan signaled the government’s intent to restart Japan’s
operable nuclear reactors should the country’s Nuclear Regulation Authority deem it safe, but
indicated that as many as half, or even more, may never operate again. Japan and the United
States signaled continued collaboration on nuclear energy in a November 2018 memorandum of
cooperation focused on nuclear safety (including reactor decommissioning), nuclear R&D, and
“[expanding] the global use of nuclear energy.”82
Japan faces a complex challenge: how to balance concerns about energy security, promoting
renewable energy sources, assessing the viability of electric utility companies, bolstering the
health of the overall economy, and addressing public concerns about safety. The LDP has

Poll Finds That Views on Nuclear Power Turn Slightly Positive,” Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, Inc., March 25,
2020, at https://www.jaif.or.jp/en/japanese-opinion-poll-finds-that-views-on-nuclear-power-turn-slightly-positive/.
77 Alexander Brown, Anti-nuclear Protest in Post-Fukushima Tokyo, Routledge Press, 2018.
78 “Japan Nuclear Reactor Operations: Kansai Electric Restarts Ohi No. 4 Reactor,” Reuters News, January 19, 2021.
79 Nikkei Asian Review, “Japanese Consumers Will be Paying for Fukushima for Decades,” December 10, 2016, at
https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Japanese-consumers-will-be-paying-for-Fukushima-for-decades; Japan Ministry of
Economy, Trade, and Industry, “Strategic Energy Plan,” April 2014, p. 10.
80 Masakazu Toyoda, “Energy Policy in Japan: Challenges After Fukushima,” Institute of Energy Economics, Japan,
presentation prepared for delivery on January 24, 2013.
81 Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, Fifth Strategic Energy Plan, July 2018, p. 32.
82 U.S. Department of Energy, “Fact Sheet on the U.S.-Japan Civil Nuclear Memorandum of Cooperation,” November
21, 2018, at https://www.energy.gov/articles/fact-sheet-us-japan-civil-nuclear-memorandum-cooperation.
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promoted a relatively pronuclear policy, though the appointment of rising political star and
staunch critic of nuclear power Shinjiro Koizumi as environment minister in September 2019
may indicate a shift. Koizumi, who indicated that he wanted to “scrap” Japan’s nuclear reactors,
reflects persistent antinuclear sentiment among many Japanese citizens.83 A March 2019 poll
found that approximately 27% of Japanese describe restarting nuclear reactors is “necessary.”84
Alliance Issues
The U.S.-Japan alliance has long been an anchor of the U.S. security role in Asia. Forged during
the seven-year U.S. occupation of Japan after its defeat in World War II, the alliance’s
foundational documents give the U.S. military the right to base U.S. troops and other military
assets on Japanese territory, undergirding the “forward deployment” of U.S. troops in East Asia.
In return, the United States pledges to protect Japan’s security. Japan is not obligated to defend
the United States, in part due to restrictions on the use of military power that are contained in
Japan’s constitution, which the United States drafted during the occupation. The U.S.-Japan
alliance was originally constructed as a fundamentally asymmetric arrangement—in the 1950s
and 1960s, the United States assumed most of the responsibility for Japan’s defense. Over the
decades, however, this partnership has shifted toward more equality as Japan’s military
capabilities and policies have evolved.
About 54,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Japan and have the exclusive use of approximately 85
facilities (see Figure 2). In exchange, the United States guarantees Japan’s security, including
through extended deterrence, known colloquially as the U.S. “nuclear umbrella.” The U.S.-Japan
alliance, which many believe was missing a strategic rationale after the end of the Cold War, has
found a new guiding rationale in countering China’s dramatic rise in economic and military
power, as well as responding to the threat from North Korea.85 Facing these shared challenges, the
two countries’ regional strategies have converged to a significant degree. The Abe and Trump
Administrations both pursued a “free and open Indo-Pacific” vision, and the two countries’ recent
security strategies—Japan’s 2018 National Defense Program Guidelines and the United States’
2017 National Security Strategy, 2018 National Defense Strategy, and 2019 Indo-Pacific Strategy
Report—are similar in their regional outlook and priorities. Analysts and government officials in
both countries emphasize the degree to which the United States and Japan are aligned when it
comes to strategic priorities.86 This shared strategic vision appears to have carried over into the
Biden and Suga Administrations, as indicated by the joint statement issued by the two
governments following their March 2021 “2+2” foreign and defense ministers meeting.87
Since the early 2000s, the United States and Japan have taken strides to improve the operational
capability of the alliance as a combined force, despite political and legal constraints. Japan’s own

83 Reuters, “New Environment Minister Says Japan Should Stop Using Nuclear Power,” September 11, 2019, at
84 Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, Inc., “JAERO’s Recent Public Opinion Survey on Nuclear Energy: Support Rises
Somewhat for Restarting NPPs,” March 22, 2019.
85 For more information and analysis, see CRS Report RL33740, The U.S.-Japan Alliance, coordinated by Emma
86 U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee, “Joint Statement of the Security Consultative Committee,” April 19,
2019, at https://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000470738.pdf; Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA, “Sixth Annual Sasakawa
USA Security Forum Focused on New Security Challenges for the U.S.-Japan Alliance,” April 30, 2019, at
87 State Department, “U.S.-Japan Joint Press Statement,” March 16, 2021.
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defense policy has continued to evolve—the Abe administration’s record-high 2019 defense
budget exceeded Japan’s decades-long unofficial cap on defense spending of 1% of GDP—and
its major strategic documents reflect a new attention to operational readiness and flexibility. (See
figure below.) The original, asymmetric arrangement of the alliance has moved toward a more
balanced security partnership in the 21st century, and Japan’s 2014 decision to engage in
collective self-defense may accelerate that trend. (See the “Collective Self-Defense” section
below.) Unlike 25 years ago, the Japan Self-Defense Force (SDF) is now active in overseas
missions, including efforts in the 2000s to support U.S.-led coalition operations in Afghanistan
and the reconstruction of Iraq. Japanese military contributions to global operations like counter-
piracy patrols relieve some of the burden on the U.S. military to manage security challenges. Due
to the increased colocation of U.S. and Japanese command facilities in recent years, coordination
and communication have become more integrated. The joint response to the 2011 tsunami and
earthquake in Japan demonstrated the interoperability of the two militaries. The United States and
Japan have been steadily enhancing bilateral cooperation in many other aspects of the alliance,
such as ballistic missile defense, cybersecurity, and military use of space.
Burden-sharing and cost-sharing are increasingly a source of tension in the alliance. During the
2016 presidential campaign, candidate Trump repeatedly asserted that Tokyo did not pay enough
to ease the U.S. cost of providing security for Japan. In response, Japanese and U.S. officials have
defended the system of host-nation support that has been negotiated and renegotiated over the
years. Defenders of the alliance point to the strategic benefits as well as the cost saving of basing
some of the most advanced capabilities of the U.S. military in Japan, including a forward-
deployed aircraft carrier. The question of how much Japan spends, particularly when including
the Japanese government’s payments to compensate base-hosting communities and to shoulder
the costs of U.S. troop relocation in the region, remains a complicated issue with few easily
quantifiable answers.

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Figure 2. Map of U.S. Military Facilities in Japan

Source: Map Resources. Adapted by CRS.
Notes: MCAS is the abbreviation for Marine Corps Air Station. NAF is Naval Air Facility.
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Mutual Defense Guidelines
In April 2015, the United States and Japan announced the completion of the revision of their
bilateral defense guidelines, a process that began in late 2013. First codified in 1978 and later
updated in 1997, the guidelines outline how the U.S. and Japanese militaries will interact in
peacetime and in war, as the basic framework for defense cooperation based on a division of
labor. The revised guidelines account for developments in military technology, improvements in
interoperability of the U.S. and Japanese militaries, and the complex nature of security threats in
the 21st century. For example, the revision addresses bilateral cooperation on cybersecurity, the
use of space for defense purposes, and ballistic missile defense, none of which were mentioned in
the 1997 guidelines. The 2015 guidelines lay out a framework for bilateral, whole-of-government
cooperation in defending Japan’s outlying islands. They also significantly expand the scope of
U.S.-Japan security cooperation to include defense of sea lanes and, potentially, Japanese
contributions to U.S. military operations outside East Asia.
The bilateral defense guidelines also seek to improve alliance coordination. The guidelines
established a new standing Alliance Coordination Mechanism (ACM), which involves
participants from all the relevant agencies in the U.S. and Japanese governments, as the main
body for coordinating a bilateral response to any contingency. This new mechanism removes
obstacles that had inhibited alliance coordination in the past, though some observers question
whether it is capable of coordinating alliance actions in a military conflict.88 Implementing and
institutionalizing other goals set out in the guidelines—such as conducting cross-domain
operations and building space and cyberspace defense capabilities—likely will be difficult and
The Abe administration pushed through controversial legislation in fall 2015 to provide a legal
basis for these far-reaching defense reforms, despite vocal opposition from opposition parties and
segments of the Japanese public. Japan’s implementation of the new guidelines and related
defense reforms has been slow and incremental, perhaps because of the controversy that
surrounded passage of the new security legislation.
Collective Self-Defense
Perhaps the most symbolically significant—and controversial—security reform of the Abe
administration was Japan’s potential participation in collective self-defense. Under the U.N.
Charter, collective self-defense is the right to defend another country that has been attacked by an
aggressor.89 Former Prime Minister Abe pushed to adjust a highly asymmetric aspect of the
alliance: the inability of Japan to defend U.S. forces or territory under attack. Article 9 of the
Japanese constitution renounces the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.
However, Japan has interpreted Article 9 to mean that it can maintain a military for national
defense purposes and, since 1991, has allowed the SDF to participate in noncombat roles overseas
in a number of U.N. peacekeeping missions and in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
In July 2014, the Abe cabinet announced a new interpretation, under which collective self-defense
would be constitutional as long as it met certain conditions. These conditions, developed in

88 Center for Strategic and International Studies, Asia-Pacific Rebalance 2025: Capabilities, Presence, and
, January 2016, p. 58.
89 Article 51 of the U.N. Charter provides that member nations may exercise the rights of both individual and collective
self-defense if an armed attack occurs. Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, drafted by U.S. officials during the post-
war occupation, outlaws war as a “sovereign right” of Japan and prohibits “the right of belligerency,” stipulating that
“land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.”
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consultation with the LDP’s dovish coalition partner Komeito and in response to cautious public
sentiment, are restrictive, and could limit significantly Japan’s latitude to craft a military response
to crises outside its borders. The security legislation package that the Diet passed in September
2015 provides a legal framework for new SDF missions, but institutional obstacles in Japan may
inhibit full implementation in the near term. However, the removal of the blanket prohibition on
collective self-defense enables Japan to engage more in cooperative security activities, like
noncombat logistical operations and defense of distant sea lanes, and to be more effective in other
areas, like U.N. peacekeeping operations. For the U.S.-Japan alliance, this shift could mark a step
toward a more equal and more capable defense partnership. Chinese and South Korean media, as
well as some Japanese civic groups and media outlets, have been critical, implying that collective
self-defense represents an aggressive, belligerent security policy for Japan.
Realignment of the U.S. Military Presence on Okinawa
Due to the legacy of the U.S. occupation and the island’s key strategic location, Okinawa hosts a
disproportionate share of the U.S. military presence in Japan. About 25% of all facilities used by
U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) and over half of USFJ military personnel are located in the prefecture,
which comprises less than 1% of Japan’s total land area. Many native Okinawans resent the large
U.S. military presence, reflecting in part the island’s tumultuous history and complex
relationships with “mainland” Japan and with the United States. Although Okinawans’ views are
far from monolithic, many Okinawans—including those who largely support the U.S.-Japan
alliance—express concerns about the burden of hosting foreign troops, particularly about issues
like crime, safety, environmental degradation, and noise. As a result, the sustainability of the U.S.
military presence in Okinawa remains a critical challenge for the alliance.90
In 1996, the alliance established a Special Action Committee on Okinawa, which mandated the
return to Okinawa of thousands of acres of land used by the U.S. military since World War II.
Subsequent bilateral negotiations aimed at addressing local resistance culminated in the 2006
U.S.-Japan Roadmap for Realignment, in which United States agreed to remove roughly 8,000
marines from Okinawa to Guam by 2014. Congressional concerns over the scope and cost of the
Guam realignment, as well as concerns about Guam’s preparedness, led to later revisions that
adjusted the number of personnel and dependents to be relocated.
The central—and most controversial—task of the realignment on Okinawa is to move Marine
Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma from crowded Ginowan City to Camp Schwab in Nago
City’s less congested Henoko area. The encroachment of residential areas around the Futenma
base over the decades has raised the risks of a fatal aircraft accident. Most Okinawans oppose the
construction of a new U.S. base for a mix of political, environmental, and quality-of-life reasons,
and demand the Futenma Replacement Facility be moved outside Okinawa. In February 2019,
Okinawa held a non-binding referendum on the relocation of the U.S. base. About 72% of those
who voted opposed the construction of the new base.91
The relocation of MCAS Futenma is frequently challenged by local politicians and activists, and
is also beset by construction delays. Okinawan citizens in late 2014 and 2018 elected two
consecutive governors who ran on platforms opposed to the relocation plan and who employed a

90 For more information and analysis, see CRS Report R42645, The U.S. Military Presence in Okinawa and the
Futenma Base Controversy
, by Emma Chanlett-Avery and Ian E. Rinehart.
91 Linda Sieg, “Japan to Push Ahead with U.S. Base Relocation Despite Okinawa Referendum Result,” Reuters,
February 24, 2019, at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-okinawa/japan-to-push-ahead-with-u-s-base-relocation-
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variety of political and legal strategies to prevent or delay construction of the base. An additional
challenge is the physical difficulty of constructing offshore runways for the base.92
Burden-Sharing Issues
Calculating how much Tokyo pays to defray the cost of hosting the U.S. military presence in
Japan is difficult and depends heavily on how the contributions are counted. Further, the two
governments present estimates based on different data depending on the political aims of the
exercise. Because of the skepticism among some Japanese about paying the U.S. military, for
example, the Japanese government may use different baselines in justifying its contributions to
the alliance when arguing for its budget in the Diet. Other questions make it challenging to assess
the value and costs of the U.S. military presence in Japan. Is the U.S. cost determined based
strictly on activities that provide for the defense of Japan, in a narrow sense? Or is the system of
American bases in Japan valuable because it enables the United States to more quickly, easily,
and cheaply disperse U.S. power in the Western Pacific? U.S. defense officials often cite the
strategic advantage of forward-deploying the most advanced American military capabilities in the
Asia-Pacific at a far lower cost than stationing troops on U.S. soil.
Determining the percentage of overall U.S. costs that Japan pays is even more complicated.
According to DOD’s 2004 Statistical Compendium on Allied Contributions to the Common
Defense (the last year for which the report was required), Japan provided 74.5% of the U.S.
stationing cost.93 In January 2017, Japan’s Defense Minister provided data that set the Japanese
portion of the total cost for U.S. forces stationed in Japan at over 86%.94 Other estimates from
various media reports are in the 40-50% range. Most analysts concur that there is no authoritative,
widely shared view on an accurate figure that captures the percentage that Japan shoulders.
Host Nation Support
One component of the Japanese contribution is the Japanese government’s payment of $1.7
billion-$2.1 billion per year (depending on the yen-to-dollar exchange rate) to offset the direct
cost of stationing U.S. forces in Japan. These contributions are provided both in-kind and in
cash.95 In recent years, the United States has spent $1.9 billion-$2.5 billion per year on
nonpersonnel costs on top of the Japanese contribution, according to the DOD Comptroller.96
Japanese host nation support is composed of two funding sources: Special Measures Agreements
(SMAs) and the Facilities Improvement Program (FIP). Each SMA is a bilateral agreement,
generally covering five years, which obligates Japan to pay a certain amount for utility and labor

92 Asahi Shimbun, “New Landfill Work Starts off Henoko despite Okinawa’s Outcry,” March 25, 2019, at
93 “2004 Statistical Compendium on Allied Contributions to the Common Defense.” See http://archive.defense.gov/
94 “How Much Does Japan Pay to Host U.S. Forces? Depends on Who You Ask,” Japan Times. January 31, 2017.
95 Michael J. Lostumbo et al., “Host-Nation Support and U.S. Payments to Other Countries,” in Overseas Basing of
U.S. Military Forces: An Assessment of Relative Costs and Strategic Benefits
, 131-66. RAND Corporation, 2013, at
96 Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Comptroller, Operation and Maintenance Overview: Fiscal Year 2019
Budget Estimates
, Washington, DC, March 2018, pp. 200-203; Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Comptroller,
Operation and Maintenance Overview: Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Estimates, Washington, DC, February 2016, pp. 225-
228; Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Comptroller, Operation and Maintenance Overview: Fiscal Year 2015
Budget Estimates
, Washington, DC, March 2014, pp. 192-195.
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costs of U.S. bases and for relocating training exercises away from populated areas. Under the
SMA covering 2016-2021, the United States and Japan agreed to keep Japan’s host nation support
at roughly the same level as it had been paying in the past. Japan is contributing ¥189 billion
($1.72 billion) per year under the SMA and at least ¥20.6 billion ($187 million) per year for the
FIP. The amount of FIP funding is not strictly defined, other than the agreed minimum, and thus
the Japanese government adjusts the total at its discretion. Tokyo also decides which projects
receive FIP funding, taking into account, but not necessarily deferring to, U.S. priorities.
According to former National Security Advisor John Bolton, President Trump demanded that
Japan increase its contribution to $8 billion per year. Shortly after Biden assumed the presidency,
the two sides agreed to extend the existing agreement for an additional year. The new round of
negotiations is scheduled for 2021.97
Additional Japanese Contributions
In addition to host-nation support, which offsets costs that the U.S. government would otherwise
have to pay, Japan spends approximately ¥182 billion ($1.65 billion) annually on measures to
subsidize or compensate base-hosting communities.98 These are not costs that would be
necessarily passed on to the United States, but U.S. and Japanese alliance managers may argue
that the U.S. bases would not be sustainable without these payments to areas affected by the U.S.
military presence.
Based on its obligations defined in the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty, Japan also pays the
cost of relocating U.S. bases within Japan and rent to any landowners of U.S. military facilities in
Japan. Japan pays for the majority of the costs associated with three of the largest international
military base construction projects since World War II: the Futenma Replacement Facility in
Okinawa (Japan provides $12.1 billion), construction at the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni
(Japan pays 94% of the $4.8 billion), and construction of facilities on Guam to support the move
of 4,800 marines from Okinawa (Japan pays $3.1 billion, about a third of the cost of
Japan also is a major purchaser of U.S. defense equipment. Japan is the third-largest recipient of
overall U.S. Foreign Military Sales delivered in the past five decades, and in recent years has
ranked between second- and fourth-largest until dropping to seventh-largest in FY2020.100 The
United States accounted for 94% of Japan’s arms imports from 2010 to 2020, according to
estimates from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.101 Recent major acquisitions
include Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, Boeing KC-46 Tankers, Lockheed Martin
and General Dynamics Aegis weapons systems, Northrup Grumman E-2D Hawkeye airborne
early warning aircraft, General Dynamics Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicles, and
Boeing/Bell MV-22 Ospreys.

97 “US, Japan Decide to Extend Military-support Agreement for Another Year,” Stars and Stripes, February 17, 2021.
98 Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “U.S. Forces in Japan-Related Costs borne by Japan (JFY2015),”
99 Figures provided by U.S. officials at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, January 2017.
100 These figures do not account for Direct Commercial Sales, information about which is not publicly available. U.S.
Defense Security Cooperation Agency, DSCA Historical Sales Book, FY 2020 Edition.
101 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “Importer/Exporter TIV Tables,” at http://armstrade.sipri.org/
armstrade/page/values.php. SIPRI’s methodology for calculating the value of arms transfers is available at
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Extended Deterrence
The growing concerns in Tokyo about North Korean nuclear weapons development and China’s
modernization of its nuclear arsenal in the 2000s garnered renewed attention to the U.S. policy of
extended deterrence, commonly known as the “nuclear umbrella.” The United States and Japan
initiated the bilateral Extended Deterrence Dialogue in 2010, recognizing that Japanese
perceptions of the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence were critical to its effectiveness.102 The
dialogue is a forum for the United States to assure its ally and for both sides to exchange
assessments of the strategic environment. The views of Japanese policymakers (among others)
influenced the development of the 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review,103 and the Japanese
government welcomed the Trump Administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review.104
Japanese leaders have repeatedly rejected the idea of developing their own nuclear weapons
arsenal. Although Japan is a ratified signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear
Weapons, and Japanese public opinion is largely antinuclear, a lack of confidence in the U.S.
security guarantee could lead Tokyo to reconsider its own status as a non-nuclear weapons state.
Then-candidate Trump in 2016 stated that he was open to Japan (and South Korea) developing its
own nuclear arsenal to counter the North Korean nuclear threat.105 Analysts point to the
potentially negative consequences for Japan if it were to develop its own nuclear weapons,
including significant budgetary costs; reduced international standing in the campaign to
denuclearize North Korea; the possible imposition of economic sanctions that would be triggered
by leaving the global nonproliferation regime; potentially encouraging South Korea and/or
Taiwan to develop nuclear weapons capability; triggering a counterreaction by China; and
creating instability that could lessen Japan’s economic and diplomatic influence in the region. For
the United States, analysts note that encouraging Japan to develop nuclear weapons could mean
diminished U.S. influence in Asia, the unraveling of the U.S. alliance system, and the possibility
of creating a destabilizing nuclear arms race in Asia.106
Ballistic Missile Defense and Strike Capabilities
Japan also plays an active role in extended deterrence through its ballistic missile defense (BMD)
capabilities, which it began to pursue in 2003, largely in response to the growing ballistic missile
threat from North Korea. Whereas prior to the introduction of BMD Japan was entirely reliant on
the U.S. nuclear deterrent, it now actively contributes to extended deterrence,107 and many
analysts see U.S.-Japan efforts on BMD as the most robust aspect of bilateral security
cooperation. DOD’s 2019 Missile Defense Review stated that “Japan is one of our strongest

102 Brad Roberts, “Extended Deterrence and Strategic Stability in Northeast Asia,” National Institute of Defense
Studies (Japan), Visiting Scholar Paper Series, No. 1, August 9, 2013.
103 Roberts (2013).
104 Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “The Release of the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) (Statement by Foreign
Minister Taro Kono),” February 3, 2018, at https://www.mofa.go.jp/press/release/press4e_001893.html.
105 For example, Trump stated, “And, would I rather have North Korea have [nuclear weapons] with Japan sitting there
having them also? You may very well be better off if that’s the case. In other words, where Japan is defending itself
against North Korea, which is a real problem.” “Transcript: Donald Trump Expounds on His Foreign Policy Views,”
New York Times
, March 26, 2016.
106 See, for example, Robert Manning, “Trump’s ‘Sopranos’ Worldview Would Undo Asian Alliances,” New Atlanticist
blog post, March 29, 2016.
107 Japan Ministry of Defense, National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2019 and Beyond, December 18, 2018, p.
8 (provisional translation); Sugio Takahashi, Ballistic Missile Defense in Japan: Deterrence and Military
, Institut Français des Relations Internationales, December 2012, pp. 20-22.
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missile defense partners.”108 Japan and the United States both deploy land- and sea-based missile
defense systems in Japan.109
In an about-face that surprised many U.S. and Japanese observers, in June 2020, Japan announced
that it would suspend a high-profile plan to purchase from the United States two Aegis Ashore
ballistic missile defense batteries. The plan had been announced in 2017 as North Korea ramped
up nuclear and ballistic missile testing, and alliance officials had touted the move as a central
component of Japan’s defense against North Korea.110 Aegis Ashore would have provided a new
layer of defense against incoming North Korean ballistic missiles for Japan and U.S. forces
stationed there and would have afforded the U.S. military the flexibility to deploy its own Aegis
ships now defending Japan to other parts of the region, including the South China Sea, Philippine
Sea, and Indian Ocean.111
The 2020 Aegis Ashore reversal has intensified a decades-long debate over whether Japan should
acquire strike capabilities. Although Japan is pursuing other missile systems for defensive
purposes, it currently does not have the ability to conduct missile strikes on enemy territory. In
August 2020, shortly before Abe announced his resignation, the LDP called on the Japanese
government to consider acquiring this capability.112 If adopted, it would represent a significant
shift in Japan’s defense policy.
Movement toward adopting a strike mission—sometimes referred to as “counterattack” by
Japanese strategists, who insist the capability would only be used in a defensive manner—has
been driven in part by North Korea’s increasingly capable missile forces and China’s regional
assertiveness. It also reflects aspirations by some Japanese to achieve greater strategic autonomy,
as well as concerns that the U.S. commitment to the alliance is waning. Japan’s adoption of a
counterattack mission could mark a departure from the long-standing division of labor in the
alliance with the United States as the “spear” and Japan as the “shield.”113
Economic Issues
U.S. trade and economic ties with Japan are viewed by many experts and policymakers as highly
important to the U.S. national interest. By the most conventional method of measurement, the
United States and Japan are the world’s largest and third-largest economies (China is number
two), accounting for 30% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019. Furthermore,
their economies are closely intertwined by two-way trade in goods and services, and by
investment in each other’s economies.

108 U.S. Department of Defense, 2019 Missile Defense Review, January 17, 2019, p. 67; Thomas Karako, “Shield of the
Pacific: Japan as a Giant Aegis Destroyer,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, May 23, 2018.
109 Japan Ministry of Defense, Defense of Japan 2018, White Paper, August 2018, p. 324.
110 Mike Yeo, “Japan suspends Aegis Ashore deployment, pointing to cost and technical issues,” Defense News, June
June 15, 2020, at https://www.defensenews.com/global/asia-pacific/2020/06/15/japan-suspends-aegis-ashore-
111 Jeffrey W. Hornung, “Is Japan’s Interest in Strike Capabilities a Good Idea?” War on the Rocks, July 17, 2020, at
112 Chieko Tsuneoka, “Japan Edges Toward Military Pre-Emptive Strike Option,” Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2020, at
113 Sheila Smith, Japan Rearmed (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019), p. 125; Yuki Tatsumi, “Japan
Eyes ‘Counter-Attack’ Capability Against North Korea Missile Threat,” The Diplomat, March 31, 2017, at Michael
Bosack, “The LDP Weighs in on Japan’s Defense Posture,” Tokyo Review, March 29, 2018, at
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Overview of the Bilateral Economic Relationship
Japan was the United States’ fifth-largest export market for goods and services (behind Canada,
Mexico, China, and the United Kingdom) and the fourth-largest source of U.S. imports (behind
China, Mexico, and Canada) in 2019. Japan accounted for 5% of total U.S. exports in 2019 ($125
billion) and 6% of total U.S. imports ($181 billion).114 The United States was Japan’s largest
goods export market and second-largest source of goods imports (after China) in 2019.115 Japan is
also a major investor in the United States, accounting for more than 14% of the stock of inward
U.S. direct investment in 2019 ($619 billion).116
The relative significance of the bilateral economic relationship has arguably declined as other
countries, including China, have become increasingly important global economic actors. Over the
past decade (2008-2019 to account for pre-financial crisis trends), U.S. goods exports to the
world grew by 26%, while exports to Japan grew by less than 12%. Similarly, U.S. goods imports
from the world grew by 18% while U.S. imports from Japan grew by 2%. Some of this shift
stems from structural changes in the global economic landscape, including the growth of global
supply chains. Data from the OECD suggest that even on a value-added basis, which adjusts
conventional trade data by attributing intermediate components of traded products to their country
of origin, Japan accounts for a declining share of U.S. import activity.117 U.S. import numbers,
however, probably underestimate the importance of Japan and Japanese companies in U.S.
consumption patterns since Japanese firms have invested heavily in export-oriented production
facilities in Asia and around the world as well as directly in the United States.
Major economic events also have influenced U.S.-Japan trade patterns over the past decade. The
global economic downturn stemming from the 2008 financial crisis had a significant impact on
U.S.-Japan trade: both U.S. exports and imports declined in 2009 from 2008. Although trade
flows recovered quickly, they peaked in 2012 and have declined or grown only modestly in most
years since that time, as measured in U.S. dollars. The decline in the value of the Japanese yen
since 2012, tied to aggressive monetary stimulus in Japan as part of Prime Minister Abe’s
economic strategy, known as “Abenomics” (described below) has likely affected both the value
and quantity of trade—measured in yen. U.S. trade with Japan has largely risen over the same
time period (see Table 1.)

114 For an overview of key figures in the economic relationship, see the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ country fact
sheet on Japan, at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/.
115 Data from Japan Ministry of Finance, accessed through Trade Data Monitor on 0/3/01/2021.
116 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Balance of Payments and Direct Investment Position Data, https://apps.bea.gov/
iTable/index_MNC.cfm (accessed April 1, 2021).
117 From 2005 to 2015 (the most recent trade in value added statistics available) U.S. imports from Japan on a value-
added basis declined from $172 billion to $149 billion, or from 9% to 6% of U.S. global value-added imports. During
the same period China’s share of U.S. imports on a value-added basis rose from 9% to 19%. OECD Trade in Value
Added Database (TiVA) at https://www.oecd.org/sti/ind/measuring-trade-in-value-added.htm.
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Table 1. U.S. Trade with Japan, Goods and Services
(in billions of dollars)
Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), International Transactions Tables. Balance of payment basis.
Accessed 03/01/2021.
Under the Trump Administration, U.S. trade policy largely focused on “unfair” trading practices,
U.S. import competition, and bilateral trade deficits, leading to greater strain in U.S. economic
relations with other countries, including with Japan. The Biden Administration notes that opening
markets and reducing trade barriers remains fundamental to its trade agenda, but also emphasizes
repairing U.S. partnerships and alliances as a major priority.118 Issues of ongoing U.S. attention in
the bilateral trade relationship include concerns over market access for U.S. products such as
autos and agricultural goods, and various nontariff barriers, which U.S. companies argue favor
domestic Japanese products over U.S. goods and services.119 Despite some renewed trade tensions
under the Trump Administration, the major trend in U.S.-Japan bilateral economic relations over
the past two decades has largely been easing tension, in contrast with the contentious and frequent
trade frictions at the fore of the bilateral relationship in the 1980s and early 1990s. By contrast,
increasing tension in the U.S.-China economic relationship, particularly threats of decoupling,
presents significant risks to Japan given its extensive economic ties with both countries.120

118 Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, The 2021 Trade Policy Agenda and 2020 Annual Report, March 2021.
119 For more information on Japanese trade barriers, see USTR, 2020 National Trade Estimate on Foreign Trade
, March 2020, pp. 281-298.
120 The United States and China account for roughly one-third of Japan’s goods trade. Japanese customs data via Trade
Data Monitor, accessed March 8, 2021.
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Japan’s Domestic Economy: Seeking Growth amid Challenges
Prime Minister Suga inherited a challenging
domestic economic landscape that many
Figure 3. GDP Growth: Japan and U.S.
economists argue requires bold policy
(10-year average of annual % change)
responses among a difficult set of choices.
Japan’s economy grew rapidly from the end
of World War II through the 1980s. However,
beginning with the collapse of an asset bubble
in the early 1990’s, the Japanese government
has struggled to end an ongoing cycle of
deflation (decreasing prices) and weak
economic growth. For the past three decades
Japan’s GDP growth has been considerably
below most advanced economies, including
the United States (See Figure 3).121
Brief periods of recovery continually have

been followed by devastating economic
Source: World Economic Outlook database,
events including the Asian financial crisis in
October 2020.
the late 1990s, the global financial crisis in the late 2000s, and the earthquake, tsunami, and
nuclear reactor meltdown in eastern Japan in 2011. Most recently, the global recession caused by
the COVID-19 pandemic has been acutely felt in Japan. International tourism, for example, had
been a targeted growth sector in recent years before the pandemic effectively halted such
activities in 2020, including the Tokyo Olympics.122 The Bank of Japan estimates that Japan’s
economy contracted by 4.8% in 2020.123
In addition to the effects of the pandemic, Japan also faces a number of long-term structural
economic challenges. Primary among these is a rapidly aging and shrinking population, which
among other difficulties places increasing strain on an already heavily indebted government, as
the working age population declines relative to retirees.124 At 238% of GDP in 2019, the size of
the federal government’s gross debt relative to its economy was already the largest in the world,
before it implemented massive fiscal stimulus, equal to roughly 60% of its GDP, in response to
COVID-19.125 Attempts to put Japan on a path of long-term fiscal sustainability without
disrupting the economy in the short-term has proven a difficult balancing act. Consumption tax
increases in 2014 and again in 2019 pushed down domestic consumption resulting in sizeable

121 Due to Japan’s shrinking population, on a per capita basis, its economic growth looks more robust when compared
to countries with growing populations such as the United States.
122 Tourism earnings from foreigners, which is considered a services export, tripled from 2010 to 2018 to $45 billion,
matching charges for the use of intellectual property as Japan’s top services export. World Trade Organization,
Commercial Services Exports, at https://data.wto.org/, accessed March 5, 2021.
123 Bank of Japan, Quarterly Estimates of GDP for October-December 2020 (First Preliminary Estimates), February
15, 2021, at https://www.esri.cao.go.jp/jp/sna/data/data_list/sokuhou/gaiyou/pdf/main_1e.pdf.
124 At 47% in 2019, Japan’s dependency ratio, the share of retirees to workers, is nearly twice that of the United States
(25% in 2019). World Bank, World Development Indicators, at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
SP.POP.DPND.OL, accessed March 5, 2021.
125 By comparison, U.S. gross debt was 109% as a share of GDP in 2019. International Monetary Fund, World
Economic Outlook Database
, October 2020, at https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/weo-database/2020/October.
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quarterly economic contractions. As a result of the 2019 tax increase, Japan’s economy was
already in the midst of contraction when the COVID-19 shutdowns took effect.
Faced with a declining working-age population and an aversion to inward immigration, Japan’s
future economic growth depends on increasing the output of each individual worker.
Unfortunately, Japan’s labor productivity growth has been slowing for the past several decades
and has declined relative to other major economies.126 Although the causes of this decline remain
the subject of debate, many economists see Japan’s rigid and bifurcated labor market as a
significant impediment to improving productivity. The rigidity in the system stems from the
traditional Japanese employment model, a result of both cultural and legal structures, in which
workers accept a grueling work schedule in exchange for the benefit of long-term job security
with pay strongly linked to seniority.127 Some have argued that this job-for-life system potentially
dampens productivity by lowering the incentive to learn new skills during the course of a career,
and by impeding the dissemination of innovations and best practices that would normally occur
when workers change from one employer to another.128
Over the past several decades, businesses have made the employment system more flexible by
expanding the group of non-regular or temporary employees who garner less competitive salaries
and face easier dismissal. Since the 1980s, the share of non-regular workers in the workforce has
grown from 15% to nearly 40%, with women accounting for the bulk of the growth.129 Instead of
improving productivity, however, many analysts see this dual system as having exacerbated the
problem, while adding to concerns over inequality.130 The Japanese government has attempted to
reform the system, including through legal measures to ensure that non-regular workers receive
“equal pay for equal work,” but enforcing such provisions in practice has proven a challenge as
highlighted in recent court cases.131 A related challenge, which may also help to explain Japan’s
sluggish wage growth despite an extremely tight labor market, is the disparity in productivity
between its firms, which is among the highest in the OECD.132 Employment growth among less
productive sectors has also led to concerns over the economy’s efficiency in allocating its
Former Prime Minister Abe attempted to tackle a number of these domestic challenges through a
three-pronged economics program known as “Abenomics.” The three components or “arrows” of
the program consisted of expansionary monetary policy, flexible fiscal stimulus, and various
structural reforms. Under Abe’s appointee, Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, the Bank of Japan has
deployed unprecedented levels of monetary stimulus, including quantitative easing through
massive purchases of government bonds and, since 2016, the use of negative interest rates to
encourage lending. Government spending under Abe was also largely stimulative, but some argue

126 Martin Neil Baily, Barry Bosworth, and Siddhi Doshi, Productivity Comparisons: Lessons from Japan, the United
States, and Germany
, The Brookings Institution, January 2020.
127 Randall S. Jones and Haruki Seitani, OECD, Labour Market Reform in Japan to Cope with a Shrinking and Ageing
, Economics Department Working Papers No. 1568, September 16, 2019.
128 McKinsey Global Institute, The Future of Japan; Reigniting Productivity and Growth, March 2015.
129 Andrew Gordon, “New and Enduring Dual Structures of Employment in Japan: The Rise of Non-Regular Labor,
1980s-2010s,” Social Science Japan Journal, vol. 20, no. 1 (February 10, 2017), pp. 9-36.
130 Ibid.
131 Makiko Inoue and Ben Dooley, “A Job for Life, or Not? A Class Divide Deepens in Japan,” New York Times,
November 27, 2020.
132 OECD, Insights on Productivity and Business Dynamics: Japan, March 2020.
133 Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry, Japan’s Low Labor Productivity: The Gap with the U.S. and
Complex Causes
, May 13, 2019, https://www.rieti.go.jp/en/papers/contribution/morikawa/12.html.
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that his decisions to move forward with consumption tax increases in 2014 and 2019 put
unnecessary strain on a still weak economy.134 The Abe government also made some progress on
structural reforms including in the energy and agriculture sectors and in corporate governance,
and sought to spur productivity by opening the Japanese marketplace to greater international
competition, lowering tariff and non-tariff barriers through a series of trade agreements.
Overall, the program appears to have had moderate success, primarily by halting deflation. Price
levels exceeded their previous 1998 peak for the first time in 2017 (See Figure 4).135 In addition,
during Abe’s tenure the labor force participation rate increased as additional workers, especially
women, joined the labor force, despite a declining working age population (See Figure 5). At the
same time, the unemployment rate fell to its lowest levels in more than 25 years (2.4% in
2019).136 Some analysts also credit the program with injecting optimism into Japan’s economy
after its decades-long period of sluggish economic growth coupled with its demographic
challenges had given rise to a narrative of Japan as a nation in decline.137

Figure 4. Consumer Price Index: Japan
Figure 5. Labor Force Participation
(index, 1998 = 100)
Rate: Japan

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook, October
Source: World Bank, World Development
Notes: Index of average annual consumer price
Notes: Annual percentage of population above
level with index year set to 1998.
age 15 in the labor force.
Many analysts agree, however, that further structural reforms are vitally necessary to maintain
Japan’s standard of living into the future in the face of its demographic challenges. The IMF, for
example, estimates that Japan could offset up to 60% of the expected slowdown in its GDP
growth resulting from its aging and shrinking population, by continuing and deepening its
structural reforms.138 To mitigate the demographic challenges and enhance economic growth, the
IMF has repeatedly recommended prioritizing (1) labor market reforms aimed at increasing
participation among women, older workers, and foreigners, and reducing distortive effects of
Japan’s two-tier labor market system by providing more training for non-regular workers; (2)
reforms to increase long-term productivity growth (such as deregulation aimed at facilitating

134 Mike Bird, “Japan’s Third Sales-Tax Blunder Must be Its Final Mistake,” Wall Street Journal, February 17, 2020.
135 Price level data from International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, October 2020.
136 Labor participation rate data from World Bank, World Development Indicators, at https://data.worldbank.org/
137 “Abe Shinzo Has Left an Impressive Legacy,” Economist, September 3, 2020.
138 International Monetary Fund, Japan: 2019 Article IV Consultation Staff Report, February 2020, p. 36.
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expansion of higher productivity small- and medium-sized enterprises and exit of poor-
performing firms); and (3) continued reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers.139
Looking forward, Prime Minister Suga, who was an instrumental figure in the Abe
administration, has continued the general thrust of Abenomics. The response to the economic
fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic dominated the start of his tenure, with fiscal and monetary
policy remaining expansionary in the near term. Governor Kuroda’s term at the Bank of Japan
extends through April 2023, and the Bank remains committed to maintaining monetary easing
until it achieves its 2% inflation target.140 In terms of structural reforms, Suga intends to continue
with Abe’s focus on labor market reforms and enhancing productivity. Two additional priority
areas include a green-growth strategy, which entails setting a path for carbon neutrality by 2050,
and a digital transformation strategy, to include a new government agency with an aim to spur the
government and private sectors in the adoption of digital technologies.141 Prime Minister Suga
also seeks to position Japan as a potential leader in developing solutions to the demographic and
fiscal challenges with which it is familiar and which other societies around the world will
increasingly face in coming decades.
Emphasis on “Womenomics”
A key component of the third arrow in former Prime Minister Abe’s economic reform focused on
“womenomics,” or boosting economic growth through reforms and policies to encourage the
participation and advancement of women in the workforce.142 Japan lags behind many other high-
income countries in terms of gender equality, and continues to underutilize the potential of its
female labor force. Women have also disproportionately been affected by employment cuts in
response to the pandemic, as they are highly over-represented among Japan’s non-regular
workers, who receive fewer career advancement opportunities and are more easily dismissed.143
Japan’s labor survey finds that 54% of women are employed as non-regular workers compared to
22% of men in 2020.144 Goldman Sachs analysts in Japan estimated that closing the gender
employment gap could boost Japan’s GDP by 10%.145 To advance its “womenomics” initiative,
the government has proposed, and is in various stages of implementing, a number of policies,
such as expanding the availability of day care, increasing parental leave benefits, and allowing
foreign housekeepers in special economic zones, among other measures.

139 Ibid.
140 Amamiya Masayoshi, Deputy Governor of the Bank of Japan, “Monetary Policy During and after the COVID-19
Era,” Speech at the Yomiuri Economic Forum in Tokyo, March 8, 2021, at https://www.boj.or.jp/en/announcements/
141 Prime Minister Suga, “Policy Speech to the 204th Session of the Diet,” January 18, 2021, at
142 For background on the initiative, see CRS Report R43668, “Womenomics” in Japan: In Brief, by Emma Chanlett-
Avery and Rebecca M. Nelson.
143 Mari Ishibashi and Rei Nakafuji, “Women Bear Brunt of Japan’s Pandemic Job Losses,” Nikkei Asia, September 7,
144 Statistics Bureau of Japan, Labor Force Survey, “2020 Yearly Average Results,” January 29, 2021, at
145 Kathy Matsui et al., Womenomics 5.0: Progress, Areas for Improvement, Potential 15% GDP Boost, Goldman
Sachs, April 18, 2019, https://www.goldmansachs.com/insights/pages/womenomics-5.0/multimedia/womenomics-5.0-
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Progress has been made by some measures, but a dearth of women in top positions has left many
disappointed in the results.146 Japan’s overall female participation rate in the labor force increased
from 48% in 2012 to 53% in 2019 (using a narrower definition of “prime-age” participation it has
surpassed the United States).147 The uptick is attributed to high demand for workers in Japan, as
well as specific “womenomics” initiatives, including expanded day-care capacity and more
generous parental leave. Some observers, however, question whether the Japanese government is
truly working to promote gender equality in the workplace or simply looking to fill gaps in the
workforce created by the shrinking population.148 Despite the increase in female labor
participation, Japan’s pay differential between men and women, or the gender wage gap, at
23.5%, remained the second highest in the OECD in 2019, behind only South Korea, which
researchers attribute largely to lack of female leadership in the workplace.149
Efforts to increase the number of women in management positions have stalled, and Japan’s
position in the World Economic Forum’s national rankings of gender equality has declined in
recent years—to 121st out 153 countries, down 11 positions from 2018.150 Japan fared worse in
political empowerment rankings (144th), reflecting the relatively low number of female legislators
and high-ranking government officials. Prime Minister Suga’s initial cabinet includes only two
female ministers (a 33% decrease over the Abe government’s final cabinet). The Japanese
government fell far short of its target of getting women in 30% of senior positions by 2020, with
women instead occupying only 8% of such positions in the private sector in 2020.151 According to
the International Labor Organization (ILO), in 2019 women occupied 3.4% of company board
seats in Japan compared to 16.4% in the United States.152 Analysts note that additional policy
reforms could continue to encourage women to join and remain in the workforce, including
reforms to Japan’s tax and social security programs that discourage married women from working
outside the home.153 Japan’s work culture, which demands long hours, also makes it difficult for
women and men to balance work and family.
U.S. Tariffs Under the Trump Administration
The Trump Administration imposed unilateral tariff increases on several significant U.S. imports
from Japan, which remain in place to date under the Biden Administration.154 In March 2018,
President Trump announced tariffs of 25% and 10% on certain U.S. steel and aluminum imports,

146 Motoko Rich and Hisako Ueno, “Shinzo Abe Vowed Japan Would Help Women ‘Shine.’ They're Still Waiting,”
New York Times, September 13, 2020.
147 World Bank, World Development Indicators, at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.CACT.FE.ZS.
148 “Japan’s Culture of Discrimination Saps ‘Womenomics,’” Financial Times, August 28, 2018.
149 OECD, OECD Data, at https://data.oecd.org/earnwage/gender-wage-gap.htm; Kazuo Yamaguchi, “Japan’s Gender
Gap,” Finance and Development, March 2019.
150 World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2020, December 17, 2019, at http://www3.weforum.org/
151 Tatsuhiro Yuki, “Japan Women Hold 8% of Manager Jobs,” Nikkei Asian, August 19, 2020..
152 International Labor Organization, A Quantum Leap for Gender Equality: For a Better Future of Work for All, 2019,
p. 30, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/
153 Kathy Matsui et al., Womenomics 5.0: Progress, Areas for Improvement, Potential 15% GDP Boost, Goldman
Sachs, April 18, 2019.
154 For more information, see CRS Report R45529, Trump Administration Tariff Actions: Frequently Asked Questions,
coordinated by Brock R. Williams.
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respectively.155 The tariffs, imposed under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 on the
premise that such imports threaten U.S. national security, have drawn criticism from Japan (the
fifth-largest supplier of affected U.S. steel imports in 2020, worth $1.0 billion), given its close
security relationship with the United States. Unlike South Korea, Japan has not negotiated a quota
arrangement with the United States in exchange for tariff exemptions, nor has Japan retaliated
against the Trump Administration’s tariff actions, like other trading partners including the EU and
China. Japan, however, appears to have been a significant beneficiary of the Trump
Administration’s product exclusion process, which allowed U.S. importers to petition the
government for tariff relief on individual steel and aluminum products from specific countries.156
Japanese exports of washing machines and solar panels are also subject to additional temporary
U.S. tariffs. These safeguard tariffs were imposed under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974 to
address serious or threatened serious injury from these imports to domestic industries.157 Japan
has provided notification to the WTO of its right to retaliate in response to these safeguard
measures, and in line with WTO commitments on safeguard actions, this retaliation is allowed to
begin in 2021. Unlike several other countries, Japan has not initiated WTO dispute settlement
procedures with regard to either the U.S. Section 201 or Section 232 tariff measures, but is
participating as a third party in disputes initiated by other countries.
In May 2019, President Trump also declared auto and auto parts imports, including from Japan, a
national security threat following another Section 232 investigation by the Commerce
Department providing him with authority to impose unilateral tariffs on the vital Japanese
industry.158 President Trump directed USTR to seek a negotiated solution with Japan and
appeared to use the threat of potential tariffs as leverage in broader trade talks with Japan. Those
talks concluded in 2019, and President Trump never imposed additional auto tariffs.
The Biden Administration is currently reviewing the Trump Administration trade policy actions
and has made no determination regarding potential changes to the Section 232 or Section 201
tariffs. The Administration’s statements on the issue have been mixed to date. Officials have
stated a preference for multilateral solutions to the economic problems the Trump Administration
sought to address through its tariff actions, including overcapacity in the global steel market,
while at the same time acknowledging that unilateral tariffs are a legitimate and at times
necessary U.S. trade policy tool.159 U.S. stakeholders have raised a number of concerns over the
tariff actions. While some domestic U.S. producers of competing products support the tariff
actions on steel, aluminum, solar panels, and washing machines, downstream U.S. industries and
retailers argue the tariffs raise costs in the United States, which are ultimately passed to
consumers. Several Members of Congress have also raised concerns over the increased U.S.

155 For more information, see CRS Report R45249, Section 232 Investigations: Overview and Issues for Congress,
coordinated by Rachel F. Fefer and Vivian C. Jones.
156 According to analysis by the Mercatus Center, as of August 2019, more petitions for exemptions on imports from
Japan were filed and approved than for any other country. Mercatus Center, Investigating Product Exclusion Requests
for Section 232 Tariffs: An Update
, August 21, 2019, https://www.mercatus.org/investigating-section-232-an-update.
157 For more information, see CRS In Focus IF10786, Safeguards: Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974, by Vivian C.
158 Trump White House, “Adjusting Imports of Automobiles and Automobile Parts into the United States,” May 17,
2019, https://trumpwhitehouse.archives.gov/presidential-actions/adjusting-imports-automobiles-automobile-parts-
159 U.S. Congress, Senate Finance Committee, Hearing to Consider the Nomination of Katherine C. Tai to be United
States Trade Representative, with the rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary: Questions for the Record
(“Nomination Hearing”), 117th Cong., 1st sess., Feb. 25, 2021.
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tariffs and introduced legislation in the 116th Congress that would have curbed the President’s
tariff authority through various approaches.160
U.S.-Japan Bilateral Trade Agreement Negotiations161
In the wake of potential Section 232 auto tariffs, Japan agreed in September 2018 to enter into
broader negotiations with the United States on a bilateral trade agreement, despite its preference
for the United States to return to the regional TPP. In October 2019, the United States and Japan
signed two agreements: the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement (USJTA), which provides for limited
tariff reductions and quota expansions to improve market access, and the U.S.-Japan Digital
Trade Agreement. The agreements, which took effect in January 2020, without formal action by
Congress, constituted what the Trump and Abe Administrations described as “stage one” of a
broader U.S.-Japan trade agreement, but further talks did not materialize.
The USJTA commitments cover about 5% of bilateral trade. The United States will reduce tariffs
on mostly industrial goods and certain Japanese niche agricultural products. Japan will reduce or
eliminate tariffs on about 600 agricultural tariff lines, such as beef, pork, and cheese, and expand
preferential tariff-rate quotas (which permit access for a specified quantity at a specified tariff
rate). U.S. officials indicated that opening Japan’s highly protected agriculture sector (the fifth-
largest U.S. agriculture market in 2019) and reaching parity with exporters from Japan’s FTA
partners were major drivers of the agreement.162 Notably, the USJTA does not cover trade in
motor vehicles, a long-standing area of bilateral tension. The Administration declined to take
action on Section 232 tariffs on Japanese auto imports, which some analysts link to Japan’s
concessions in the USJTA, although the agreement itself is silent on the issue.163
On digital trade, an area in which the two countries have largely similar goals, U.S. and Japanese
officials referred to the agreement as “high-standard,” with provisions that include prohibiting
customs duties on digital products and data localization requirements, and ensuring free cross-
border data flows. The agreement largely reflects the digital trade rules set by the U.S.-Mexico-
Canada Agreement (USMCA), which entered into force in July 2020.
Such a limited scope agreement represents a significant shift in approach from recent U.S. FTAs,
which typically involve one comprehensive negotiation. The Trump Administration used certain
delegated tariff authorities in Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) to proclaim the tariff provisions,
while treating the digital trade agreement, which did not require changes to U.S. law, as an
Executive Agreement.164 Some Members and U.S. stakeholders raised questions regarding the
congressional role in approving trade agreements, whether the U.S.-Japan outcomes met

160 For example, see H.R. 723, S. 287, S. 365, and S. 289.
161 For more information, see CRS In Focus IF11120, U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement Negotiations, by Cathleen D.
Cimino-Isaacs and Brock R. Williams, and CRS Report R46140, “Stage One” U.S.-Japan Trade Agreements,
coordinated by Brock R. Williams.
162 “U.S. Trade Representative Calls for Prioritizing Initial Deal with Japan on Farm Tariff Cuts,” Japan Times, June
19, 2019.
163 In a joint statement both sides broadly committed to “refrain from taking measures against the spirit of these
agreements” and “make efforts for an early solution to other tariff-related issues.” See “Joint Statement of the United
States and Japan,” September 26, 2018, https://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/files/000405449.pdf.
164 TPA provides for the expedited consideration of trade agreement implementing legislation, if the agreement makes
progress towards achieving negotiating objectives and the Administration adheres to certain notification and
consultation requirements. For more information, see CRS Report RL33743, Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and the
Role of Congress in Trade Policy
, by Ian F. Fergusson.
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congressional requirements under TPA, and urged second-stage talks to achieve a comprehensive
trade agreement.165
An expeditious reduction of Japan’s agricultural tariffs under the USJTA, however, was widely
supported in Congress, given growing concerns that Japan’s other recently enacted trade
agreements disadvantage U.S. exports. U.S. agriculture, including pork, beef, and wheat
industries lauded the new agreement as putting U.S. producers back on a level playing field with
foreign competitors.166 Following U.S. withdrawal from the TPP, Japan led efforts among the
remaining 11 TPP countries to conclude the CPTPP, which took effect in December 2018 for the
first six signatories to ratify, including Japan. In February 2019, Japan’s FTA with the EU, which
eventually is to remove nearly all tariffs, including elimination of the EU’s 10% auto tariff, and
elimination or reduction of most Japanese agricultural tariffs, also went into effect.167 In
November 2020, Japan also signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)
trade agreement, which will lower trade barriers among its 15 Asian members, including China,
once it takes effect.168
At the same time, some U.S. industries expressed concerns about the extent of new market access
or the lack of attention to other key issues, such as geographical indications (GIs) or sanitary and
phyto-sanitary standards (SPS), which are among the areas typically covered in comprehensive
U.S. FTAs. More broadly, U.S. businesses strongly advocated for continued progress toward a
more comprehensive deal with Japan, while other stakeholders questioned whether there was
sufficient political momentum under the Abe and Trump Administrations to make progress.169
Several analysts also questioned the extent to which the limited agreement adheres to WTO
requirements that FTAs cover “substantially all trade,” in particular given the exclusion of auto
trade.170 Whether or not the agreement violates the letter or spirit of this WTO requirement likely
depends on the timeline and scope of potential future U.S.-Japan talks.
While the United States and Japan committed to initiate a second stage of talks covering
“customs duties and other restrictions on trade, barriers to trade in services and investment, and
other issues,” shortly after entry into force of the initial trade agreement, talks never
materialized.171 The Biden Administration has not signaled whether it will prioritize further talks
with Japan, as a review of the Trump Administration’s trade policies is ongoing.172 President

165 House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, U.S.-Japan Trade Agreements hearing, 116th Cong., 2nd sess.,
November 20, 2019.
166 “U.S. Business Groups Laud Initial U.S.-Japan Deal, Press for More Talks,” Inside U.S. Trade, September 26, 2019.
167 European Commission, “EU-Japan Trade Agreement Enters into Force,” January 31, 2019, http://trade.ec.europa.eu/
doclib/press/index.cfm?id=1976. For more detail see CRS In Focus IF11099, EU-Japan FTA: Implications for U.S.
Trade Policy
, by Cathleen D. Cimino-Isaacs.
168 CRS Insight IN11200, The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership: Status and Recent Developments, by
Cathleen D. Cimino-Isaacs and Michael D. Sutherland.
169 Association Letter of Support for Comprehensive U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement, U.S. Chamber of Commerce,
September 11, 2019, https://www.uschamber.com/letters-congress/association-letter-of-support-comprehensive-us-
japan-trade-agreement; James Politi, “US and Japan sign partial trade agreement,” Financial Times, September 25,
170 “Analysts Question WTO Compliance of U.S.-Japan Deal,” Inside U.S. Trade, September 17, 2019.
171 Trump White House, “Joint Statement of the United States and Japan,” September 25, 2019. U.S. negotiating
objectives, released at the outset of the talks, suggested a broad range of issues beyond tariffs and digital trade would be
covered. See https://ustr.gov/countries-regions/japan-korea-apec/japan/us-japan-trade-agreement-negotiations.
172 In response to questions submitted during her nomination hearing, USTR Katherine Tai stated: “Japan is one of
America’s most important trading partners and allies. If confirmed, I commit to undertaking a detailed assessment of
the current state of the U.S.-Japan trade relationship in light of the recent U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement to determine the
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Biden’s intent to focus on domestic economic policies before negotiating new trade deals
suggests it may be some time before the two countries address significant issues left out of the
initial agreements.173 The Administration has also emphasized the importance of working with
allies like Japan to meet the challenges posed by China. Under the Trump Administration, the
United States, European Union, and Japan were engaged in intermittent talks starting in 2018 to
push for expanded disciplines on subsidies and practices of nonmarket economies.174 A key
question is whether the Biden Administration might also consider joining the CPTPP.175 Some
experts view the advancement of mega-regional trade deals like CPTPP and RCEP without U.S.
participation as reducing U.S. economic and strategic influence in the Asia-Pacific and
reinforcing a need to reenvision U.S. engagement in the region.176
Japanese Politics
The LDP Coalition’s Control over the Diet
Prime Minister Suga’s LDP enjoys a dominant position in the Japanese political world. With its
coalition partner, the smaller party Komeito, it holds two-thirds of the seats in the Lower House
of Japan’s Diet and nearly 60% of the seats in the Upper House. (See Figure 6. for a display of
major parties’ strength in Japan’s parliament.) The LDP has been in this position of parliamentary
supremacy since former Prime Minister Abe led it back into power in December 2012. Since
then, the LDP, in coalition with the much smaller Komeito party, has won victories in five
consecutive parliamentary elections, in July 2013, December 2014, July 2016, October 2017, and
July 2019. Since 1955, the LDP has ruled Japan for all but about four years. Its most recent, and
longest, time out of power was in 2009-2012, when the left-of-center Democratic Party of Japan
(DPJ) ruled the country. Japan’s political stability since 2012 stands in contrast to the turmoil of
the 2007-2012 period, when the premiership changed hands six times in those six years, and no
party controlled both the Lower and Upper Houses of the parliament for more than a few months.
The LDP’s reliance on Komeito to maintain its political dominance extends beyond the latter
party’s crucial Upper House seats, which give the coalition a majority in that chamber. Komeito
is a political offshoot of the Soka Gakkai Buddhist movement that is able to mobilize its
followers into a reliable voter bloc in many electoral districts. According to one estimate, by 2019
the organization was providing 5% - 20% of the votes for each LDP candidate.177 Komeito’s
outsized political importance also manifests itself on selected security issues, due to Soka

best path forward. Our strategic and economic relationship must remain strong in the face of growing regional
challenges.” U.S. Congress, Senate Finance Committee, Hearing to Consider the Nomination of Katherine C. Tai to be
United States Trade Representative, with the rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary: Questions for the
Record (“Nomination Hearing”), 117th Cong., 1st sess., Feb. 25, 2021.
173 See Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, The 2021 Trade Policy Agenda and 2020 Annual Report, March 2021.
174 USTR, “Joint Statement of the Trilateral Meeting of the Trade Ministers of Japan, the United States and the
European Union,” January 14, 2020.
175 In response to congressional questions on prospects for rejoining TPP, USTR Katherine Tai was noncommittal,
stating, “I will review the CPTPP to evaluate its consistency with the Build Back Better agenda and whether it would
advance the interests of all American workers.” U.S. Congress, Senate Finance Committee, Nomination Hearing, 117th
Cong., 1st sess., Feb. 25, 2021.
176 See, for example, Keigh Johnson, “While Trump Builds Tariff Walls, Asia Bets on Free Trade,” Foreign Policy,
November 1, 2019, and Peter A. Petri and Michael G. Plummer, “RCEP: A new trade agreement that will shape global
economics and politics,” Brookings Order From Chaos blog, November 16, 2020.
177 Editorial Board, “Abe’s Dominance Belies Japan’s Weak Politics,” East Asia Forum, July 15, 2019.
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Gakkai’s pacifist leanings. Komeito arguably influenced former Prime Minister Abe to water
down a number of the provisions of his 2014 reforms allowing Japan to participate in collective
self-defense activities. Komeito’s dovish tendencies also appeared to complicate Abe’s
unsuccessful efforts to revise Japan’s constitution, particularly its pacifist-oriented Article 9.
Ultimately Abe was unable to realize these reforms during his nearly eight years in office.178
Revising the constitution has been a long-standing goal of Japanese conservatives, who have
come to dominate the LDP. Many of these politicians in the LDP’s dominant wing, including
former Prime Minister Abe, also are known for advocating nationalist, and in some cases ultra-
nationalist, views that many argue embrace a revisionist view of Japanese history that rejects the
narrative of Imperial Japanese aggression and victimization of other Asians in the first half of the
20th Century.179 In contrast to Abe, Suga generally is not associated with the LDP’s nationalist
wing, perhaps because prior to becoming Abe’s Chief Cabinet Secretary he focused on domestic
and economic policy issues.180 However, he and most of his cabinet reportedly are members of
Nippon Kaigi Kyokai, a group that contends Japan should be applauded for liberating much of
East Asia from Western colonial powers in the 20th Century, that the 1946-1948 Tokyo War
Crimes tribunals were illegitimate, and that the killings by Imperial Japanese troops during the
1937 “Nanjing massacre” were exaggerated or fabricated.181 As is the case with most of the
LDP’s most prominent leaders, Suga has visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, though not
since becoming a cabinet member in 2012. The Shrine was established to house the “spirits” of
Japanese soldiers who died during war, but also includes 14 individuals who were convicted as
Class A war criminals after World War II.182

178 Any attempt to change the constitution would have to surmount other formidable political and procedural hurdles. A
constitutional revision requires a two-thirds vote in each Diet chamber, followed by approval in a nationwide
referendum. Decisions about priorities also will likely take time, because there are calls to amend a number of other
provisions of the constitution, which was written by the United States during the U.S. occupation of Japan in 1946 and
has never been changed. Furthermore, any constitutional changes passed by the Diet also must be approved by a
majority in a nationwide referendum, and many opinion polls show the Japanese public to be skeptical about the need
for a revision, particularly of Article 9.
179 See, for example, Jeff Kingston, “Abe’s Revisionism and Japan’s Divided War Memories,” Japan Times
commentary, August 22, 2015.
180 Peter Landers, “Shinzo Abe Visits Tokyo War Shrine Linked to Militarist Past,” Wall Street Journal, September 19,
2020. See also Tobias Harris’ lengthy September 4 and September 12, 2020 Twitter threads reviewing Suga’s 2012
memoir, Seijika no Kakugo (A Politician’s Resolve) at @ObservingJapan, https://twitter.com/observingjapan/status/
181 Aurelia George Morgan, “Abe’s Cabinet Reshuffle,” East Asia Forum, September 4, 2019; “Suga Cabinet Members
in Right-Wing Diet Groups,” Akahata, September 21, 2020, translated by Japan Media Highlights.
182 The origins of the shrine reveal its politically charged status. Created in 1879 as Japan’s leaders codified the state-
directed Shinto religion, Yasukuni was unique in its intimate relationship with the military and the emperor. The Class
A war criminals were enshrined in 1978. Since then, three successive Japanese emperors have not visited the shrine,
and scholars suggest that it is precisely because of the criminals’ inclusion. Adjacent to the shrine is the Yushukan, a
war history museum, which to many portrays a revisionist account of Japanese history that at times glorifies its
militarist past.
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Figure 6. Party Affiliation in Japan’s Lower House of Parliament
(The LDP and its partner, Komeito, control the Lower House, which elects the prime minister.)

Source: Japan’s Lower and Upper Houses of the Diet, Accessed March 8, 2021.

Japan’s Largest Opposition Party, the Constitutional Democratic
Party (CDP) of Japan
In the July 2019 Upper House elections, the center-left Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP)
solidified its status as the largest opposition party. The party was formed in 2017 and led by
former Chief Cabinet Secretary and Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Yukio Edano. The
CDP’s public approval ratings, however, have rarely broken out of the single digits in recent
months, compared to over 30% for the LDP. In general, disarray among Japan’s opposition
parties arguably has contributed to the LDP-Komeito coalition’s electoral success since 2012.
Upcoming Elections in 2021
Japan is set to experience two major political events in 2021. The first, an intra-LDP poll, is
scheduled tooccur in September 2021 when Suga’s term as party president expires. The second,
elections for the Diet’s Lower House, must be held by October 2021. With many polls from
November 2020 through the end of February 2021 showing more Japanese disapproving than
approving of Suga’s performance, attention has begun to focus on possible successors. Prominent
names in some polls include Taro Kono (b.1963), currently Reform Minister in charge of Suga’s
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digitization initiative and a former Foreign Minister and Defense Minister; former Defense
Minister Shigeru Ishiba (b. 1957), whose previous bids for the LDP presidency in 2012, 2018,
and 2020 fell short; and Shinjiro Koizumi (b.1981), the son of former prime minister Junichiro
Koizumi and current Minister of the Environment and Minister of State for Nuclear Emergency
Preparedness. A test of Suga’s political viability may come on April 25, when by-elections are
scheduled to fill a handful of vacancies in Japan’s parliament.
Japan’s Demographic Challenge
Japan’s combination of a low birth rate, strict immigration practices, and a shrinking and rapidly
aging population presents policymakers with a significant challenge. Polls suggest that Japanese
women are avoiding marriage and child-bearing because of the difficulty of combining career and
family in Japan; the fertility rate is 1.36, below the 2.1 rate necessary to sustain population size.183
Japan’s population growth rate is -0.2%, according to the World Bank, and its current population
of 126 million is projected to fall to about 102 million by midcentury.184 Concerns about a huge
shortfall in the labor force have grown, particularly as the elderly require more care. The ratio of
working-age persons to retirees is projected to fall from 5:2 around 2010 to 3:2 in 2040, reducing
the resources available to pay for the government social safety net.185 Japan’s immigration
policies have traditionally been strictly limited, limiting one potential source of new workers. In
2019, the Japanese government introduced a new visa policy aiming to attract 500,000 foreigners
to Japan’s workforce by 2025, but is not on track to meet this goal.186 Some scholars have raised
concerns that the United States may face challenges as its Indo-Pacific allies—especially Japan
and South Korea, but also Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand—struggle to keep their
economies healthy as the labor force declines.187

183 Japan Ministry of Internal Affairs Statistics Bureau, Statistical Handbook of Japan 2020, September 2020, p. 16.
184 World Bank, “Population growth (annual %) – Japan,” 2019 Revision, at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
SP.POP.GROW?end=2019&locations=JP&start=2011; World Bank, “Population total – Japan,” 2019 Revision, at
https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=JP; Japan Ministry of Internal Affairs Statistics Bureau,
Statistical Handbook of Japan 2020, September 2020, p. 10.
185 Lynann Butkiewicz, “Implications of Japan’s Changing Demographics,” National Bureau of Asian Research,
Washington, DC, October 2012.
186 Rebecca Smith and Anita Vukovic, “How Can Japan Meet its Goal of 500,000 Foreign Workers by 2025? By
Contracting Out Labor Mobility Programs,” Center for Global Development, September 12, 2019, at
https://www.cgdev.org/blog/contracting-out-labor-mobility-programs; Jiji, “Japan’s new visa system on track to fall far
short of target,” January 21, 2020, at https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/01/21/national/japans-new-visas-falling-
187 Andrew L. Oros, “Biden’s Asian outreach reflects the power of demographics,” The Hill, March 31, 2021, at
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Author Information

Emma Chanlett-Avery, Coordinator
Caitlin Campbell
Specialist in Asian Affairs
Analyst in Asian Affairs

Mark E. Manyin
Cathleen D. Cimino-Isaacs
Specialist in Asian Affairs
Analyst in International Trade and Finance

Brock R. Williams

Specialist in International Trade and Finance

This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan
shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and
under the direction of Congress. Information in a CRS Report should not be relied upon for purposes other
than public understanding of information that has been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in
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