Decoupling from China: Japan to pay its firms to invest at home

Japan to subsidise manufacturers hundreds of millions of dollars to invest at home and Southeast Asia instead of China.

Japan factory
China is Japan's largest trading partner, but the trade war and tensions between Washington and Beijing have pushed the Abe government to try to reduce its reliance on China [File: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg]

Japan’s government will start subsidizing some companies to invest in factories in Japan and South-East Asia as part of efforts to reduce reliance on manufacturing in China.

Fifty-seven companies including privately-held facemask-maker Iris Ohyama Inc. or Sharp Corp. will receive a total of 57.4 billion yen ($536 million) in subsidies from the government to invest in production in Japan, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said Friday. Another 30 firms will receive money for investments in Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand and other Southeast Asian nations, according to a separate announcement, which didn’t provide details on the amount of money.

While the METI statement doesn’t explicitly state the money is to move production out of China, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in March that Japan needed to bring production back home or diversify output to Asean nations and elsewhere to cut reliance on any one country such as China.

The government will pay a total of 70 billion yen in this round, the Nikkei newspaper reported. The payments come from 243.5 billion yen that the government earmarked in April to reduce reliance on Chinese supply chains, with the money aimed at helping companies shift factories back home or to other nations.

As U.S.-China relations deteriorate and the trade war worsens, there’s been increasing discussions in the U.S. and elsewhere about how to “decouple” economies and firms from China. Japan’s decision is similar to a Taiwanese policy in 2019, which was aimed at bringing investment back home from China. So far, no other country has enacted a concrete policy to encourage the shift.

China is Japan’s biggest trading partner under normal circumstances and Japanese companies have massive investments there. The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has damaged those economic ties as well as China’s image in Japan. The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been trying for years to improve relations with China after anti-Japan riots in 2012, but the fallout from the pandemic and the ongoing territorial dispute over islands and gas fields in the East China Sea have undercut those efforts.

Source: Bloomberg