Against the background of the current Japanese government’s clearly ill-conceived policies, which are causing ever greater misery for its people, criticism of Fumio Kishida’s cabinet has increased markedly, with his rating dropping by a further 4.6 percentage points to 56.9% over the month. This is evidenced, in particular, by published data from a survey conducted by the Kyodo agency. According to Japan’s main news agency, 64.1% of respondents were negative about the government’s actions to combat rising prices.
Much of Japan’s current economic problems stem from import and export restrictions. Although Japan has taken into account the experience of the sanctions against the DPRK, the negative effect of the anti-Russian sanctions has been much stronger; Japanese companies are now facing increasing difficulties relating to rising raw material and energy prices due to the situation around Ukraine and various sanctions against Russia. The price of Dubai crude oil in Japan rose to a 14-year high of over 83,100 yen ($640), trading data on the Tokyo Commodity Exchange showed. Nevertheless, demonstrating vassal loyalty to Washington, and despite the clear disadvantage for Japan itself, the Kishida government supported the latest Russophobic decision by the US and EU countries to impose a partial embargo on Russian oil imports in late May, as announced by Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno.
However, such moves boomerang on Tokyo’s own energy policy. According to warnings published by the Nikkei newspaper on June 6, Japan could face its biggest energy crisis since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami if temperatures fall this winter. The process of restarting nuclear power plants is extremely slow due to the fact that local authorities often do not give appropriate permission to power companies, and some thermal power plants are shut down. The unpredictability of the situation is also linked to the uncertainty over the continuation of stable energy purchases from Russia amid anti-Russian sanctions. The Nikkei newspaper estimates that the total power shortage across the country in the event of a cold winter would be around 3.5 million kW. About 1.5 million kW of this could be covered by restarting some thermal power plants. However, experts estimate that if LNG exports from Russia to Japan were to stop, another 4 million kW of energy would be lost. As a result, the level of electricity shortage in a worst-case scenario could be equivalent to the needs of about 1.1 million households.
In this regard, Japanese authorities have already started calling on the population to save electricity. At a press conference in Tokyo on June 7, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Koichi Hagiuda said that relevant austerity measures had been approved at a ministerial meeting, and did not rule out restrictions on the use of electricity by large companies or other measures to stabilize the situation.
At least 50.6% of Japanese companies are now experiencing various difficulties due to the situation around Ukraine and Russia, according to Japan’s Teikoku Databank research center. Over 40% have raised prices or are about to do so. At the end of May, The Asahi newspaper stated that the Japanese sanctions against Russia could cause various degrees of damage to 15,000 Japanese companies, with many firms already forced to look for analogues of the products they buy because of this, and supply chains are disrupted.
According to the Hokkaido Shimbun Japan’s embargo on Russian timber imports has hurt housing construction in the country, and the rate of housing construction is falling. Without Russian timber, housing prices are expected to rise further, causing widespread panic in the construction business.
Japan’s Daily Shincho also wrote about the serious damage to Japan from the anti-Russian sanctions, pointing out that Russia’s retaliatory measures have hit a very sore spot for the Japanese – fishing: the 1998 agreement that allowed Japanese fishermen to fish not only within Russia’s 200-mile economic zone, but also in its territorial waters near the Southern Kuril islands. As a result, massive devastation for Hokkaido fishermen is expected. “This is “retaliation” for our sanctions against Moscow. That’s what our focus on the US means!” the publication writes. Moreover, the Daily Shincho recalls that most recently Russia responded to Japanese sanctions by calling Japan an “unfriendly country” and decisively suspending peace treaty negotiations, including the issue of the northern territories. And now the situation is getting even worse. The publication stresses that Russia’s response to Tokyo’s sanctions policy will not do the Land of the Rising Sun or the current prime minister any good. The fisheries issue could be one of the central issues in the upcoming elections to the Japanese parliament’s upper house of councilors in July.
The situation is also worsened by unstable pricing policies, the depreciation of the Japanese yen, which leads to higher import costs and, consequently, higher production costs. The Japanese yen has already hit its lowest level against the US dollar in 20 years, currency trading data show. Japan’s public debt exceeded $9.5 trillion at the end of fiscal year 2021 (March 31, 2022) and the country has become the biggest creditor to the United States, reinforcing its dependence on the US. According to a June 11 editorial in The Mainichi newspaper, recent statements by Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda about the need to “tolerate” price increases could lead to a loss of public confidence in the central bank’s monetary policy.
The sanctions adopted by the Japanese government since the start of the events in Ukraine apply to 507 people from Russia, 253 people from the LPR and DPR, 201 Russian companies and organizations, and 11 banks. Under the influence and instructions from Washington, Japan has repeatedly expanded the list of goods banned for export to Russia, and from June 17 it added trucks, dump trucks, bulldozers and other types of equipment to the list. Earlier, Japan banned the export of high-tech oil refining equipment, quantum computers and their components, electron and atomic force microscopes, 3D printers and their consumables. However, all these restrictions only affect Japan’s own export earnings, while Russia, with its active import-substitution policy, achieves production of the sanctioned goods internally in a relatively short time, or acquires them from other foreign markets. Thus Tokyo’s sanctions policy is taking its toll on Japan and its people, among whom criticism of the current Kishida’s government is growing by the day.
According to many experts, Japan’s intensification of its clearly unfavorable sanctions policy in recent months and its worsening relations with Russia, including the declaration of eight Russian diplomats as personae non gratae, are undoubtedly due to its long-term exposure to strong US influence and consequent lack of autonomy in decision-making. And given that Washington will never compensate Japan for its losses from a deepening trade and economic breakdown with Russia, the current government in Tokyo will have to answer to its people for such short-sighted policies, while criticism of its actions is growing.
Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.