Why Japan has given up the cautious stance and is more forceful in condemning Russia

O embaixador americano no Japão, Rahm Emanuel, e o primeiro-ministro Fumio Kishida, em encontro em Tóquio em fevereiro

The US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel and the Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, meeting in Tokyo in February| Photo: EFE/EPA/FRANCK ROBICHON

Russia and Japan have a history of exchanging hostilities. The Japanese victory in the war fought by the two countries between 1904 andfor territories in Manchuria and the Korean peninsula foreshadowed the decline of tsarism and the coming to power of the Bolsheviks in the following decade.

On opposing sides in World War II, Japanese and Russians did not sign a peace agreement after the end of the conflict, due to the dispute on the part of the Kuril Islands (which the Japanese call the Northern Territories), administered by Russia since then.

In the name of negotiations for an agreement, Japan had been adopting a cautious posture and good relationship with Moscow, especially during the last period of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the head of the Executive (2012-2020).

Other points that contributed to this attitude were to avoid a strengthening of the Rús axis sia-China and maintain an interlocutor to stop the North Korean arms escalation.

When Russia infringed on Ukrainian territorial sovereignty in 2014, by annexing Crimea and supporting separatists in Donbass , Japan imposed timid sanctions, and only after pressure from the United States.

However, this reticent stance was abandoned after the invasion of Ukraine that took place in 24 of February. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who has been in office for six months and was foreign minister under Abe, followed the line of the G7 and imposed heavy sanctions.

The measures included blocking Russian banks’ access to the international banking communications system SWIFT, freezing President Vladimir Putin’s assets and repealing of Russia’s “most favored nation” trade status.

Moscow responded by placing Japan on a list of “hostile” countries and suspending peace talks. Japanese media reported that Tokyo will describe Russia’s dominance over the disputed islands as “illegal occupation” in an annual foreign policy report to be released in late April, which has not happened since 2003.

This is not a complete rupture, not least because, like the European Union, the Japanese are still very much in need of Russian energy exports. With most of its nuclear reactors deactivated since the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Japan is extremely dependent on from the importation of fossil fuels.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine , the prime minister ruled out a Japanese withdrawal from the joint Sakhalin 2 oil and gas project. Kishida argued that the project is critical to securing “supplies of LNG long-term, cheap and stable” to Japan. “It is an extremely important project in terms of our energy security. We have no plans to give up”, he said.

However, in Last Friday (8), the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced that it will gradually reduce coal imports from Russia, saying that the country intends to get rid of dependence on Russian products, although it did not provide details and dates.

Regardless of energy issues, the Japanese government remains incisive in condemning Russia. After footage emerged of civilians killed in Bucha after Russian troops left, Kishida described the alleged massacre as “an act of violation of international law and a humanitarian problem”. “We must condemn him harshly,” he added.

On Thursday last friday (7th), Japan was one of the 04 countries that voted in favor of suspending Russia from the United Nations Human Rights Council. The following day, he announced the expulsion of eight Russians, including diplomats and commercial representatives.

Fear of isolation

)The assessment of experts is that Kishida decided to change his stance towards Moscow because he fears isolation in the face of growing hostilities in East Asia.

In addition to adopting predatory trade practices, China has raised the tone of its military threats in the region (as in speeches about the “reincorporation” of Taiwan) and South Korea Norte has accelerated its weapons tests this year.

Yuki Tatsumi, Japan’s program director at the American think tank Stimson Center, pointed out in an article on The Diplomat’s website that while Kishida wants to complete the peace treaty regarding the territorial dispute with Russia, “now is not the time to appear ambivalent about to Moscow because of a distant hope that that a softer stance by Tokyo could improve Japan’s negotiating position.”

“If Japan wants the international community to support Tokyo’s position in the event that China resorts to force in the East China Sea or the Taiwan Strait, it needs to stand firm in its support for partner democracies and universal values ​​that the Russian invasion tries to undermine”, he argued.

In the review of the National Security Strategy implemented in 2011 under the Abe government, Kishida will need to emphasize “China’s problematic behavior as something that goes directly against Japan’s national interest” and to expand its security cooperation with the United States, Tatsumi added.

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