20.01.2023 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Fumio Kishida’s latest overseas tour

The NEO has already drawn attention to the increased activity on the international stage displayed on various occasions by members of the current Japanese cabinet, especially Prime Minister Fumio Kishida himself. This activity was reaffirmed by his week-long overseas trip, which began on January 9 of this year and included Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, the countries making up 5 of the 7 members of the G7 group, which includes Japan itself. Another summit, with the German chancellor, is scheduled for this spring.

Japan’s increasing activity in international affairs has been accompanied by a strengthening of its own role. This is particularly evident in Japan’s inclusion in the UN Security Council for the next two years.

Fumio Kishida’s visit to the above five countries is not coincidental. First, Japan will hold the presidency this year and host various events in the G7 format. Second, late last year Japan adopted new versions of its long-term defense and security instruments that differ substantially from previous versions.

The need to familiarize the de facto allies (that is, the first four countries) with these changes (as they say in the first person) and to coordinate them with the de jure ally (the United States) was one of the main objectives of Fumio Kishida’s trip abroad. And the last stage was undoubtedly the most important in the trip discussed here.

Still, among the results of Fumio Kishida’s visit to London was also the appearance of a landmark document showing the further and comprehensive development (especially in the field of defense) of Japanese-British relations. Its development was launched during then-Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to Tokyo in September 2017.

This case involves the signing of a bilateral document in London on January 11 to “facilitate” reciprocal access to the territory of one partner for units of the other’s armed forces (Reciprocal Access Agreement, RAA). The related statement from the Japanese Foreign Ministry reads that Fumio Kishida and the “honorable” Rishi Sunak (note the absence of any such designation before the Japanese prime minister’s name) signed the document (with their positions indicated). The same statement also refers to the long (27-page) text of the Japan-UK RAA.

The signing of this document alone is a milestone in the development of Japan-UK relations. Just as it was a year earlier in Japan-Australia relations.

The focus of the Japanese prime minister’s entire trip, however, was a visit to Washington, D.C., where he held talks with US President Joe Biden on January 13. Just two days earlier, another meeting of the bilateral Security Consultative Committee (often referred to in the press as the “2+2 format”) was held in the same Washington, D.C., involving the foreign and defense ministers of both countries. The outcome of this “format” was undoubtedly on the table where the leaders of the United States and Japan met.

This voluminous document deserves the attention of those readers who are interested in the main points of the current phase of the development of relations between these countries. For the brevity and general character of the Joint Statement issued by the White House after the talks between Joe Biden and Fumio Kishida may serve as indirect confirmation of the suspicion that the former is hardly any longer in a position to discuss the content of the above points.

As for the Joint Statement to be adopted at the end of the next meeting of the US-Japan “2+2 format,” it should be emphasized once again that such documents (which are usually quite long) do not contain unnecessary words, and everyone decides for themselves what is of primary importance in them. For the author, these are the following points.

First, the new trends in Japanese defense policy, and in particular Tokyo’s intention to double its defense spending within five years, have the full approval of the Americans. Second, China is identified without qualification, i.e., quite clearly, as the greatest security challenge and the intention is stated to increase “synchronism” in bilateral cooperation to counter this challenge. Third, special attention is given to the problem of maintaining the status quo with respect to Taiwan and its current positioning in the international arena. Fourth, Japan’s interaction with NATO is expanded, and the US side welcomes the signing of the Japan-UK RAA.

Overall, the impression is that Japanese foreign policy is irreversibly tied into the main trend of the current phase of the Great Game, which is toward a global confrontation between the two leading world powers. And it is clear whose side it is on. The increasingly obvious anti-Chinese character of Tokyo’s foreign policy can only have a negative impact on the state of Japan-Russia relations.

And yet, a remarkable episode in the preparation of the tour under discussion could not fail to attract attention. On January 5, i.e. three days before the start of the tour, an invitation to visit Ukraine was extended to Fumio Kishida through the Japanese Ambassador in Kyiv, which was immediately reported by Kyodo News. In a conversation with journalists the next day, the addressee of the invitation expressed evasiveness, which actually meant a negative response.

Incidentally, in the brief statements made by Biden and Kishida before the start of the negotiations, it was also noticeable that the latter did not mention the “Ukrainian issue.” While the former promised to “hold Putin accountable for unprovoked aggression in Ukraine.”

The joint statement by the two heads of state does mention the “Ukrainian issue,” but without any sharpness or mention of “Putin.” Who, apparently, for the American president is the source and embodiment of all the problems that currently afflict him personally.

It should be noted that today on the international political scene the Kyiv regime is assigned the role of a new idol. Completely artificial, but no less important than its predecessor, Greta Thunberg. Given its full proxy role, it seems clear that Ukraine played only the role of a middleman in initiating the above invitation. Considering the fact that Japan, again, will be chairing the G7 configuration this year (with its demonstrative reverence for the incumbent government in Kyiv), Fumio Kishida, by his above-mentioned refusal, has almost called himself a “Voltairian.” If not a “Carbonari.” Did he start a “revolution from above” in the G7? By the way, Fumio Kishida promised something “unusual” for the upcoming G7 summit in Hiroshima during his last speech in Washington.

It should be noted that the current Japanese Prime Minister is by no means the originator of Japan’s “maneuver” strategy regarding the country’s positioning in the Ukraine conflict. Shinzō Abe did the same long before him. The Japanese leadership’s motivation for such behavior goes far beyond the infamous “Northern Territory’s problem” and is mainly due to the same complexities in Japan-China (and possibly Japan-Korea) relations.

For Russia, however, the apparent interest of the Japanese leadership (for various reasons) in maintaining constructive relations provides an opportunity to act as a mediator in resolving the difficulties in China-Japan relations. Provided, of course, that both countries agree.

As for the reaction of the main object of Japan’s growing foreign policy activity, there is a mixture of caution and regret. This is especially true when it comes to the question of whether Japan’s current leadership will voluntarily take on the heavy burden of a steep increase in defense spending. An article commenting on this issue in the Chinese Global Times is accompanied by a revealing illustration.

Vladimir Terekhov, an expert on the problems of the Asia-Pacific region, especially for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook.