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Editorial: Invasion of Ukraine demands Japan rethink its Russia policy

  • February 28, 2022
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

Japan, along with the other Group of Seven leading industrial nations, has decided to implement sweeping economic sanctions against Russia over the latter’s invasion of Ukraine. Moscow has shattered international order with military force, and a determined response is natural.

 

However, in recent years Japan has strengthened cooperation with Russia in fields such as energy and the economy, while dealing with the territorial dispute surrounding the Northern Territories, a chain of islands off Hokkaido seized by the former Soviet Union in 1945 but still claimed by Japan. This strategy needs to be rethought in light of recent events.

 

In line with the strong stance taken by Europe and the United States, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced a series of sanctions targeting Moscow, including freezing the assets of Russian financial institutions, barring some Russian banks from the SWIFT international money transfer system, and new controls on semiconductor exports.

 

This contrasts with Tokyo’s response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. That time, the administration of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, still hoping for an uptick in Northern Territory negotiations with Moscow, took far more limited initial sanctions action than the U.S. and Europe. Abe had emphasized his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but in the end, there was no marked progress in negotiations over the disputed islands.

 

When Kishida took office, he indicated that he would maintain course on Japan-Russia relations. After Russian troops began pushing into Ukraine, however, he said that Japan “absolutely cannot condone, and strongly condemns” Moscow’s actions.

 

The invasion of Ukraine is, for Japan, not just someone else’s problem.

 

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated recently that Japan should be very interested in “not allowing Russia to crush the existing world order based on rules,” and preventing Moscow from showing such actions are a path to success.

 

It would set a truly bad precedent if the world community were to overlook Russia’s flagrant trampling of international law, one that could have a very strong impact on East Asia. China has been flexing its muscles in the East and South China seas, and there is significant tension in the Taiwan Strait.

 

Russia looks likely to impose retaliatory measures on Japan over Tokyo’s sanctions moves. Japan, which imports oil and liquefied natural gas from Russia, must be ready to face higher crude oil prices and supply instability.

 

To keep up the pressure on Moscow, the Japanese government must implement policies to keep the impact of these problems on the people’s lives and livelihoods as small as possible.

 

Japanese foreign policy’s core tenet is emphasis on supporting the universal values and principles of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Japan’s commitment to defending rules and order is being tested.

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