By Sugimoto Yasushi
Over Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Japanese government officials are growing increasingly critical of Russia’s political regime, including human rights oppression. Criticism is directed not only at Russia’s “politics of power” that uses military force to invade a neighboring nation but also to its “politics of principles.” Some of them regard Russia as an authoritarian state on par with China. Rhetoric reminiscent of the Cold War conflict between the East and West in both ideology and a struggle for power is growing stronger.
At a press conference held on March 18, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hayashi Yoshimasa noted that [the Russian government] “is cracking down on protests within Russia” and said that “these strict controls are closely linked to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.”
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Ono Hikariko said at a press conference on March 16 that “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is also supported by strict controls of speech and human rights inside Russia.” Within MOFA, some officials share a sense of hostility toward Russia. “Just like China, Russia is a totalitarian state, and we must win this war,” said a senior official.
The Japanese government has imposed economic sanctions on Russia, which include the freezing of personal assets held by President Putin. On peace treaty negotiations that are aimed at realizing the return of the Northern Territories, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio has commented that “we are not in a situation to discuss prospects” and indicated the government’s stance to shelve the talks.
The government is taking this hardline approach because it identifies Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an act that disturbs the international order and has a direct bearing on Japan’s national security. Kishida repeatedly emphasizes that [Japan’s] strong sanctions on Russia show that Russia needs to pay a price for its outrageous act of violating international law.” This is also meant to hold in check China and prevent it from using force against the Senkakus (Ishigaki City, Okinawa Prefecture) and Taiwan.
The remarks made by Minister Hayashi and MOFA officials indicate that the threats that Russia poses to Japan’s national security are rooted in its political system. On Russia’s disregard for the 1994 Budapest Memorandum in which the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia promised to secure the safety of Ukraine in exchange for the country’s abandonment of nuclear weapons, a senior MOFA official remarked that “an authoritarian state never makes good on its promises because it does not go through public checks” and likens Russia to China, which also did not honor the promise to uphold the “one country, two systems” made during the time of Hong Kong’s reversion to China.
The Japanese government has never imposed economic sanctions for human rights violations. With regards to Japan’s recent economic sanctions, the human rights situation in the country was not factored in. Nonetheless, Japan is stepping up its criticism of the Russian regime. A senior government official explains that “we need to take human rights violations more seriously as these put international peace and safety at risk.”