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Analysis: Japan’s tough story about Russia is really about China

During the first few days of the invasion, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida swiftly saw the Ukrainian crisis as a global problem. “This is a very serious situation that affects not only Europe but also the order of Asia and the world,” he told reporters.

According to Yoko Iwama, an expert in international affairs and security at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, Japan’s support for Ukraine serves a dual purpose.

“The purpose of Japan’s response is to send a message that we are ready and will not allow forced changes to the border in the event of an invasion (of Japanese territory),” Iwama said. Stated.

“We don’t want a real war. The purpose is political. To convince China from the aggressive actions Putin has taken in the past few days and weeks.”

Against this background, Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an unthinkable proposal in an interview three days after Russia’s invasion.

Prime Minister Abe, a leading figure in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, has highlighted the idea that Japan will participate in a nuclear weapons sharing program like NATO. The effects of two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II-but one Prime Minister Abe says he should no longer be taboo.

Tactical changes at different times

Japan’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is very different from what it did after Moscow attacked Crimea in 2014.

Later, under Prime Minister Abe, Japan was told that it was too late to act, but now the strategy is different and the urgency is undoubtedly greater.

In 2014, Prime Minister Abe said he had adopted a tactic of attracting Russia and strengthening relations with China, said James Brown, an associate professor at Temple University in Tokyo.

Russia annexed the Ukrainian Peninsula of the Crimean Peninsula by hijacking major facilities and sending troops to incite an eight-year separatist rebellion.

According to Sheila Smith, a senior researcher in Asia-Pacific studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, Tokyo initially treated Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region as a Western issue.

“(The Japanese government) treated it a bit like a problem that Europeans and Americans deal with. It wasn’t really about Japan, but they’ll go along with it,” Smith said. ..

She said Prime Minister Abe hopes that Russian leader Vladimir Putin will sign a normalization of relations between Russia and Japan or a complete peace treaty that will formally end hostilities dating back to World War II. Was there.

However, Japan’s attitude towards Russia has been criticized internationally, and Tokyo eventually joins its Western allies, consisting of easing visa needs, travel bans, and suspension of negotiations related to the freezing of certain personal assets. Imposed sanctions on Russia, including diplomatic measures.

However, due to the scale and fear of the crisis in Ukraine this year, Japan, according to Temple University Brown, pushes a consistent message of unity with G7 partners to show that it is a “trustworthy partner.” became.

“You hear over and over again, the government says-‘and with our G7 and other international partners, we coordinate by taking a strict response on this issue. ‘-They don’t want to be seen as out of step, “Brown said.

Japan needs G7 support, especially from the United States, to contain the move from Beijing to Taiwan. Taiwan claims to be its territory, even though China has never ruled.

So last week, Japan added more sanctions against Russia and Belarus-frozen additional 32 Russian and Belarus officials and oligarch assets. Also, as a rare move, we reviewed the guidelines for overseas transfer of defense equipment. Transporting bulletproof vests Tokyo has also joined the move to separate Russia from the SWIFT banking system, freezing the assets of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Experts say Japan wants to keep pace with its international allies in the face of human tragedy and China’s growing military power.

“A sense of urgency”

In the decades following World War II, Japan’s pacifist constitution hampered Japan’s military buildup. Article 9 of the document states that “the potential for land, sea, air force, and other wars is never maintained.”
However, in recent years, the country has shown a move towards increasing military spending, and in December last year Prime Minister Kishida announced that he was looking for options to give the government the ability to attack enemy bases.

China is considered a major threat, but the combined forces of Russia and China put Japan under considerable pressure.

Last year, the two countries carried out what was claimed as the first joint Chinese-Russian naval patrol in the Western Pacific. The vessel sailed in the Osumi Strait, which separates the main island of Japan and its northern island, Hokkaido, and then went down the east coast of the country. After that, we will return to China through the Osumi Strait off the coast of Kyushu Island in southern Japan.

Foreign vessels are allowed to navigate the high seas of the Osumi and Tsugaru Straits, but Japan is closely monitoring the voyages that the Pentagon has called “abnormal.”

The Japanese Defense Ministry said on Friday that 10 Russian Navy vessels, including a frigate, had passed through the Tsugaru Straits the day before and headed for the Sea of ​​Japan.

Japan has territorial disputes with both China and Russia. Last year, Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told CNN that the Senkaku Islands, known as China’s Diaoyu Islands, are undoubtedly Japanese territory and will be defended as such. Kuril Islands, an island chain off the coast of Hokkaido.

And there is Taiwan, which is located in the south of the sea area where 90% of Japan’s oil supply was carried by ferry.

Last year, Japan approved a record defense budget for 2022 of 5.4 trillion yen ($ 47.2 billion), which exceeds 1% of GDP.

In addition to local security considerations, some say the Ukrainian crisis indicates that Ukraine needs to commit further.

Break down the taboo

However, additional defense funding is only one aspect of Japan’s armor against rising regional tensions.

Last month, Prime Minister Abe used his position as a former leader to raise another controversial outlook: hosting US nuclear weapons in Japan.

“Japan has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has three non-nuclear principles, but it is essential to understand how the world’s security is maintained and those discussions should not be treated as taboo. “Prime Minister Abe told Fuji Television. ..

Kishida immediately rejected the proposal, saying it was “unacceptable,” but anti-nuclear activists were indignant, as expected.

Japan is within the US nuclear umbrella, but has long excluded hosting nuclear weapons because of the devastation caused by the atomic bombs dropped during World War II.

When asked about Prime Minister Abe’s comments at regular press conferences, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Japanese politicians were “open to the obligations of the Parties to the Three Non-Nuclear Principles and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.” He said he made a “barbaric comment” that he violated. (NPT) “

“By strengthening nuclear sharing with the United States, Japan has fully exposed the dangerous tendency of prolonged militarism within the country,” he added.

In an interview, Prime Minister Abe also urged the United States to take a clearer position on Taiwan’s defense as to whether to defend the autonomous island in the event of Beijing’s attack.

Last year, US President Joe Biden said the United States would defend Taiwan if Taiwan was attacked by China. This seems to be inconsistent with the “policy of deliberate ambiguity” policy expressed by the United States.

However, government officials later said the United States had not announced any policy changes regarding Taiwan. Under the “One China” policy, the United States recognizes China’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan.

There is one thing that is clear. Russia’s attack on Ukraine rattled the Japanese and forced them to face questions that might otherwise be avoided.

“People are asking,’If China attacks, will the United States really enter? Will the United States have a war with China?'” Smith said. From the Council on Foreign Relations.

“These are all recent questions that are bubbling under the surface, based on the first capabilities of China as well as North Korea, and as Putin uses a nuclear threat, it is also revealed. I think there is, “she added.

Journalist Yuki Kurihara contributed to this report from Tokyo.

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