EDITORIAL | Kishida’s 6-nation tour adds pressure on Russia

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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has just concluded an eight-day diplomatic trip that took him to six countries (including Vatican City) during which he sought to gain more support for measures to respond to the invasion Russian from Ukraine.

Although the leaders of Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand avoided specific criticism of Russia during their meetings with Kishida, they jointly affirmed the principle that “to change the status quo by force in any region is intolerable”.

While in Italy and the UK, Kishida and the leaders of those countries affirmed the solidarity of the G7 nations with Russia. Also, with China in mind, the UK announced that it would expand its military presence in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as its defense and security cooperation with Japan.

Kishida also met Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Pope Francis at the Vatican in Rome on May 4, 2022. (Pool photo)

Count on Kishida in Asia

As Japan, the United States and Europe increase pressure on Russia, more needs to be done to sway opinion in Asia. One problem, however, is that since Southeast Asian countries are keen to keep their distance from the big powers, they are reluctant to do or say anything that would alienate Moscow.

This is especially true for Indonesia, which will host the G20 summit in November. Whether or not Russian leader Vladimir Putin should be allowed to attend is a bitter point of contention. Thailand is also hosting this year’s APEC ministerial meetings. These high profile international conferences offer perfect opportunities to increase the pressure on Russia, but they will force the hosts to play a proactive role.

The G7 nation best placed to influence Southeast Asian countries in this regard is Japan, since it knows their respective positions very well. In fact, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi both thanked Kishida for his efforts encouraging the three Southeast Asian countries to take positive action.

New measures

During Kishida’s meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, Vietnam pledged to provide $500,000 in humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Vietnam did so, despite historically having had deep ties to Russia.

Although the concrete results so far may seem meager, it is important that Japan persists in its efforts to influence opinion in other countries. This in itself will no doubt greatly frustrate Russia.

While heeding opinions in Asia, during the visit of United States President Joe Biden to Japan at the end of May, and during the Quad Summit which will coincide with this visit, Japan must work with its partners to swell the chorus of the international community public opinion and send a strong message of rebuke to Russia.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson shake hands in London on May 5, 2022 (Pool photo, via Kyodo)

While in the UK, Prime Minister Kishida announced a series of new sanctions against Russia, including adding 140 people to the list of people with close links to Putin who will have their assets frozen. However, considering that the European Union is preparing to ban imports of Russian oil, Japan’s efforts still seem unfortunately insufficient.

Atlantic and Pacific Security: Inseparable

During Prime Minister Kishida’s meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the two men agreed that “security in the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions is indivisible”.

Japan and Southeast Asian countries face a pressing threat from a militaristic China that has illegally established military installations in the South China Sea and remains determined to annex democratic Taiwan. Beijing simply cannot be allowed to engage in reckless expansionism like Russia is doing in Ukraine.

Solidarity in opposing Russia’s aggression will also serve to strengthen cooperation to deter China.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese at this link.)

Author: editorial board, The Sankei Shimbun

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