KEY POINTS

  • Britain and Taiwan have also offered to allow Hong Kong refugees into their countries
  • Abe has criticized China’s security law in Hong Kong
  • Japan has traditionally opposed immigration

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he may allow financial sector workers in Hong Kong – as well as those employed in other specialized fields -- to immigrate to his country in light of the national security laws China has proposed for the city-state.

“We have been welcoming foreign talent with specialized and technical abilities, including from Hong Kong, and will continue to actively do so,” Abe said on Thursday during an upper house parliamentary budget meeting.

Abe’s welcoming stance on Hong Kong refugees is likely tied to Japan’s “Global Financial City: Tokyo Vision” initiative which seeks to turn Tokyo into a global financial hub by attracting foreign financial companies, and by developing the homegrown asset management and fintech industry.

“It is important for Tokyo to remain an attractive place of business for the finance industry, and to continue developing as an international city that brings together people, information and money from around the world,” Abe said. “In order for it to become a financial center, we need to bring in more [foreign] talent.”

Britain and Taiwan have also offered to allow Hong Kong refugees into their countries.

Abe has criticized China’s security law in Hong Kong, while members of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party have urged the Prime Minister to reconsider allowing a state visit to Japan by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Japan is also deeply concerned by the [Hong Kong] situation,” Abe said. “We will respond appropriately in coordination with relevant countries.”

Part of that coordination will involve the next meeting of the Group of Seven nations.

“We will advance Japan's vision for the world and lead the creation of a new international order,” Abe said.

Japan wants the G7 meeting to develop a joint statement on Hong Kong and its principle of “one country, two systems,” which refers to Hong Kong’s cherished autonomy from Beijing.

“I would like Japan to take the lead within the G7, based on the idea that a statement should be issued,” Abe told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday.

The Chinese foreign ministry has condemned Abe’s posture on Hong Kong.

Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing expressed its “grave concerns” to Japan about Abe’s comments and emphasized that Hong Kong is “entirely China’s internal affair.”

“The relevant country [Japan] should abide by international laws and basic principles of international relations,” she added.

U.S. President Donald Trump has postponed next the G-7 summit till the autumn, and proposed inviting Russia, South Korea, Australia and India to the parley.

While Japan has traditionally opposed immigration, its aging demographics and now the COVID-19 pandemic may be changing this intransigence.

Menju Toshihiro, managing director of the Japan Center for International Exchange, wrote that for the past two decades, Japan responded to internal labor shortages by allowing migrant workers into the country under limited-term training or student visas.

“By prohibiting long-term immigration, the government has sought to avoid the costs of education, integration, and inclusion,” he wrote. “But as depopulation and demographic aging have progressed, eroding Japan's resilience as a society, the inadequacy of such a short-sighted approach has become increasingly apparent.”

Toshihiro commented that foreign workers represent a “crucial stabilizing force in this fragile, rapidly aging society.”

Japan's foreign population has been climbing by 200,000 annually, while the population as a whole has been dropping by about 500,000 per year.

Foreigners in Japan – now totaling about 2.93 million – account for more than 2% of the total population.

“Unfortunately, Japanese public policy has lagged far behind these demographic and economic realities.” Toshihiro noted. “The government continues to uphold a ‘no immigration’ stance, accepting unskilled and semiskilled workers on a temporary basis only.”

Toshihiro called for an overhaul of the country’s immigration system and to cease treating migrant workers as “disposable commodities.”

“The government can no longer ignore the need for an immigration system that treats foreigners as a precious human resource worthy of a long-term investment -- beginning with a solid Japanese-language education,” he wrote. “To restore Japan's resilience we need people who view themselves, and are viewed, as members of the community with a stake in Japan's future, not migrant workers who will pack up and leave in times of crisis.”