Japan’s diplomatic activism in the face of its South Asian neighbors’ unwillingness to impose sanctions on Russia

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (left) after a joint press conference with his Thai counterpart Prayuth Chan-ocha in Bangkok on May 2, 2022.

The war in Ukraine has led Japan, the only Asian country in the G7, to step out of its usual reserve during international crises. After strongly condemning the Russian invasion, he wants to appear as the unifier of an Asia “free and open”, “reject any unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force”† The journey just made to Southeast Asia by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who visited Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand consecutively between April 29 and April May illustrates Tokyo’s desire to try to bring together Asian countries around Japan whose views often differ from the West regarding the Ukrainian crisis.

Tokyo expects the war in Ukraine to be the beginning of a disruption of international standards that, starting in Europe, will not be without effect on the other side of the planet – if only because of the expansion of Russian territory into the Far East. While in Europe the danger is mainly Russian, for Japan it is twofold: to a China with hegemonic ambitions comes a Russia that “has just shown that it can operate in both the west and the east”, Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said this after recent exercises by the Russian fleet in the Sea of ​​Okhotsk, north of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. The Japanese defense, hitherto concentrated in the southwest of the archipelago, facing China, will have to strengthen its positions at these latitudes – as in the time of the USSR.

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A cautious Japanese public opinion

However, Japan’s alignment with the views of the other G7 members, in particular with regard to the adoption of economic sanctions, is not unanimously accepted by Japanese public opinion: it condemns the aggression, but part of Between her remains cautious as to the real causes of the conflict.

Japan’s position resulted in retaliatory measures from the Kremlin, which ended negotiations on the peace treaty between the two countries. This has been stumbling for more than half a century over the dispute over the sovereignty of four islands in the Kuril Archipelago, annexed by the USSR after the Japanese defeat in 1945. But the deterioration of relations with Moscow at the moment is not The most important Minister Kishida’s main concern: his priority is indeed to bring the positions of the countries of Southeast Asia closer to those of the G7 so as not to appear isolated in his own region. Tokyo therefore argues with its neighbors that the aggression to which Ukraine is the victim can also occur elsewhere and that the countries in the region must show coherence in their condemnation of Russia. Convincing them is difficult because they are reluctant.

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