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Home Energy Russian ‘backlash’, energy issues holding back Japan’s Kishida from Ukraine trip: analysts

Russian ‘backlash’, energy issues holding back Japan’s Kishida from Ukraine trip: analysts

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“The Kishida administration emphasises international order based on the rule of law,” said Hinata-Yamaguchi, a project assistant professor at The University of Tokyo’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology.

He added that Japan was likely to be concerned about a possible “backlash” from Russia, including “possible ramifications on energy”.

With energy self-sufficiency at only 11 per cent, the lowest among the G7 countries, Japan buys almost 10 per cent of its annual liquefied natural gas from the Sakhalin-2 project in Russia’s far east.

From February to July last year, Japan purchased US$2.6 billion of Russian coal, oil and gas, according to The Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

The “backlash” might also affect Japan-Russian negotiations over disputed territories, Hinata-Yamaguchi said, referring to the long-running dispute over the ownership of four southernmost islands which Moscow calls the Kurils and Tokyo the Northern Territories.

“Japan (might) even be exposed to the Russian threat itself, where Moscow could up its military threat vis-à-vis Japan,” Hinata-Yamaguchi said.

The liquefied natural gas plant operated by Sakhalin Energy at Prigorodnoye on the Pacific island of Sakhalin, Russia in July 2021. Photo: Reuters

The liquefied natural gas plant operated by Sakhalin Energy at Prigorodnoye on the Pacific island of Sakhalin, Russia in July 2021. Photo: Reuters

Rupakjyoti Borah, senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, said Japan was unlikely to want to worsen ties with Russia especially since former prime minister Shinzo Abe had tried hard to improve bilateral relations.

During Abe’s eight years as prime minister in his second tenure, he met Russian leader Vladimir Putin 27 times, even inviting the Russian president to his hometown.

“A Russia-China bloc would be detrimental to [Japan’s] national security interests,” Borah added.

Ra Mason, associate international relations and Japanese foreign policy professor at the University of East Anglia, said it was only a matter of time before Kishida visited Kyiv.

“Japan’s conservative political establishment and a majority of the population are very risk averse, particularly when it comes to any kind of entry into a warzone,” Mason said, noting that domestically Kishida might risk being seen as escalating the conflict by demonstrating “partisan support” for Ukraine.

Purnendra Jain, emeritus Asian studies professor at the University of Adelaide, said that unlike other G7 countries, Japan was the only one that did not belong to Nato.

Tokyo therefore had to consider Asia’s strategic environment where many countries did not support the West’s actions on the war in Ukraine, Jain said, adding that Japan’s parliament was in session and Kishida’s presence was also required there.

“The prime minister is required to announce his overseas visit,” Jain said, noting that this would make it difficult in terms of security as the country’s Self-Defence Forces could not operate overseas to ensure Kishida’s security.

Several lawmakers, however, have stated that an exception can be made for Kishida to visit Ukraine without prior notice to parliament.

Go Ito, a professor of international relations at Meiji University, cited the discussion among Japanese politicians on the increase in the country’s defence budget as another reason that has held back Kishida’s visit to Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Japan’s lower house passed a record US$839.3 billion budget for the next financial year starting in April which features increased military spending to cope with threats from China and North Korea.

Under the Kishida administration, Japan plans to strengthen its defence spending amounting to US$314 billion over the next five years.

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A larger role as G7 chair

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues into the second year, calls have been mounting for Japan as G7 chair to take the lead in global support for Kyiv, including postwar reconstruction.

Tokyo has also been asked to show its commitment to tackling nuclear threats when G7 leaders meet in Hiroshima in May.

University of Adelaide’s Jain said Japan had already announced several packages including a recent pledge of US$5.5 billion, adding that public support in Japan for financial aid to Ukraine was high.

The country, which had previously been “refugee-averse”, had also accepted more than 2,000 Ukrainians and more were likely to be accepted, Jain said.

A man stands in a sea of rubble before the shell of a building that once was a movie theatre in Hiroshima in September 1945, a month after the US detonated atomic bombs over the city. File photo: AP

A man stands in a sea of rubble before the shell of a building that once was a movie theatre in Hiroshima in September 1945, a month after the US detonated atomic bombs over the city. File photo: AP

Kishida’s decision to hold the G7 meeting in his hometown and the site of the world’s first nuclear bombing was to “showcase the horrors of the atomic bombs”, Jain added.

In 1945, the US detonated atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leading to the deaths of between 129,000 and 226,000 people, most of whom civilians.

But “Japan faces a huge dilemma”, Jain said, given the US’ continued development of nuclear weapons and programmes despite December’s G20 declaration in Bali prohibiting the use or threat of nuclear weapons.

Without wanting to “criticise” Washington, Jain said that apart from a general statement, Tokyo was unlikely to issue any specific declarations banning nuclear weapons at the G7 summit.

A Maritime Self-Defence Force surveillance plane flies over the disputed islands, called the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea. File photo: Kyodo News via AP

A Maritime Self-Defence Force surveillance plane flies over the disputed islands, called the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea. File photo: Kyodo News via AP

According to East Anglia University’s Mason, Japan is seeking to utilise the G7 leadership “to reposition itself internationally” not just in relation to the war in Ukraine, but also in terms of how it defends the disputed islands in the East China Sea, known in Japan as the Senkakus and in China as the Diaoyu.

The repositioning would also strengthen Japan’s position in “openly backing Taiwan” in the face of an increasingly aggressive China, Mason added.

In recent months, Chinese military aircraft and ships have entered the Taiwan Strait daily as Beijing keeps up military pressure on the island.

On Tuesday, Taipei said it spotted 14 PLA aircraft and three naval vessels around the island, including four aircraft that crossed the median line of the strait.



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