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Japan should strengthen ties with Poland to keep China in check

  • January 24, 2022
  • , Nikkei Asia , 8:40 p.m.
  • English Press

TAKUYA MIZOROGI, Nikkei staff writer


TOKYO — Central and Eastern European countries, with which China has worked to strengthen ties through its Belt and Road Initiative, have begun changing their stance toward Beijing.


In an interview with Nikkei, Akio Miyajima, Ambassador of Japan to Poland, said these countries are finding the economic benefit from China is not as great as they had expected. He argued that Japan should strengthen relations with these countries, especially Poland, a pro-U.S. country.


As Poland has been wary about the growing military ambitions of Russia and is located on the counter-Russia front line of NATO, “it should be an urgent issue for Japan to strengthen ties with Poland, which is a major country in Eastern Europe, for the purpose of keeping Russia and China in check,” Miyajima said.


Edited excerpts of the interview follow:


Q: Central and Eastern European countries have begun distancing themselves from China. Why is this?


A: Until a few years ago, countries in the region had high hopes for economic assistance from China. However, after they actually worked with China, some of them began to be disappointed because they found the assistance not as beneficial as they had expected. In addition, a sense of alarm has grown among these countries about China’s Belt and Road Initiative.


Lithuania, in particular, is increasingly critical of China. The country pulled out of Beijing’s “17+1” cooperation bloc with Central and Eastern Europe and set up an effective embassy in Taiwan. By contrast, however, Serbia and Croatia have increasingly been coming under the influence of China.


Poland, where I am assigned as an ambassador, is medium among the Central and Eastern European countries in terms of closeness to China. It imports a lot from China but exports little to China. A sense of dissatisfaction is simmering about not only the trade imbalance but the sluggish growth of investment from China.


Poland borders Ukraine, and after Russia annexed Crimea, NATO increased military presence in Poland. The country is now on the front line against Russia.


Q: Have the Central and Eastern European countries changed their views on their relations with China and Russia?


A: A growing view in these countries is that China fuels Russia’s military ambitions.


However, Japan’s interest in Central and Eastern Europe remains low. Japan even remains disinterested in the Ukraine issue. For Japan, strengthening relations with Poland, which is a major country in Eastern Europe, should be an issue it needs to address urgently.


Q: What should Japan do?


A: Poland has strong aversion to Russia because of its history of having been under the oppression by the former Soviet Union. Still, it has no choice but to rely on imported energy resources, such as coal and natural gas, from Russia.


Support for the introduction of renewable energy would be a godsend for Poland. Japan should hurry to provide infrastructure support to help Poland’s decarbonization efforts.


In Japan, it is not widely known that Poland, along with the U.K., is a close ally of the U.S. among European countries. Japan is the country the U.S. places the greatest trust on in Asia, and Poland is the most trusted country among the European Union members.


The administration of former President Donald Trump established close ties with Poland. The administration had a good chemistry with the authoritarian nature of the Polish administration. Poland, for its part, decided it would be a good idea to have closer ties with the U.S., to counter Russia.


Given the COVID-19 situation, the U.S.-Poland diplomacy has tended to be intermittent. Poland has strong interest in the counter-China policy of the U.S., which Japan is well acquainted with.

It will be beneficial for Japan to share information with Poland and deepen relations with it, beginning with a discussion of deterrence against China.

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