The density of foreign policy activities by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida cannot but attract attention. At the end of April, he received German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Tokyo. Immediately after that, he went on a week-long tour to three countries in Southeast Asia and a subsequent flight to Europe. There, he held talks with colleagues from Italy and the United Kingdom. Upon returning home, Kishida received the EU top officials (Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen), and a week later (May 15) in Tokyo, he held negotiations with Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin. On June 10, the Japanese prime minister delivered the keynote address at the “Shangri-La Dialogue” held in Singapore.
The final act of Fumio Kishida’s foreign policy activity over the past two months was his participation in the G7 and NATO summits at the end of June. Which together made up a single landmark event for a group of countries still designated by the moniker of the “West.”
By the way, note that today, perhaps the only argument in favor of at least some justification for its use is the perception by a certain portion of the global political community of the rapprochement between China and Russia as a threat. Which, to emphasize, is completely natural and objective, and is not at all a consequence of the “American push” towards it. Both countries quite naturally complement each other, and this process doesn’t require any “external stimulation.” In addition, the focus of world political and economic processes is shifting to the Indo-Pacific region, where two-thirds of Russian territory is located, and whose level of development, as they say, “leaves much to be desired.”
It is that same Indo-Pacific region (IPR), where the interests of the main elements that make up the “West” are shifting towards, primarily the United States and the leading nations of Europe. Russia could develop quite organic relations with both the former and the latter. But once again, something is getting in the way.
That specific “something” is connected with everyday politics in the Euro-Atlantic region and hardly just with the notorious “primordial Russophobia,” which is a speculative construct, born out of a selective interpretation of Russian history. Putting the country in a humiliating position, the construct of “Russophobia” does not withstand any criticism concerning different periods of its relations with the United States and various European countries.
Not to mention Russia’s relations with Japan, which, until the second half of the 19th century, generally remained outside the realm of European politics. Japan consequently could not be under the influence of any “primordially Russophobic” sentiments. For example, Ivan Goncharov got mainly positive impressions about visiting Japan in the 1850s. The short period of the war from 1904-1905 was entirely due to the same boring everyday politics. That is, it didn’t contain anything “primordially Russophobic.”
And if today Prime Minister of Japan Fumio Kishida welcomes the “Madrid Declaration,” adopted following the results of the latest NATO summit, in which the definition of the Russian Federation as an “immediate threat” to members of this organization is almost the key thesis, then he does this, guided, again on the other hand, by exclusively rational (in his understanding) considerations of current politics, where there is obviously no “Russophobic” mysticism.
Fumio Kishida’s signature isn’t on this document because Japan is not a member of NATO, and the country’s prime minister himself was in Madrid as a guest (for the first time in the history of the summits of this union). He was joined there by his colleagues from Australia, New Zealand and South Korea in the same status. But in what took place in Munich and Madrid, in fact, a single action, Fumio Kishida was undoubtedly one of the most prominent participants. Because, to reiterate, he represented the main friendly country of the Euro-Atlantic “West” from the “East,” where the former is now also going to “shift.”
Japan has long been linked by a formalized military-political alliance to the main element of the Euro-Atlantic “West,” the United States. The author would like to emphasize once again that in the near future it is Japan that will be the main stakeholder in the preservation and strengthening of said alliance. And, therefore, it will have to pay for this interest. For instance, by participating (to its own detriment) in both anti-Russian sanctions “because of some Ukraine,” and in large-scale demonstrative “all-Western” brouhahas. Like the ones that just took place in Munich and Madrid.
Which in no way indicates Japan’s (and Germany’s) “complete dependence” on its “big brother” in the guise of Washington. Tokyo, as well as Berlin and the capitals of all of Washington’s other allies, are increasingly pursuing their own goals, continuing in the vein of the “generalized West.” And Fumio Kishida’s trip to Europe once again testified to Japan’s heightened interest in developing comprehensive relations with the leading countries of the continent.
Which interest, once again, has found receptive ears. In the summer of 2017, the Japanese-European Agreement on the Formation of a Bilateral Free Trade Area was signed. The United Kingdom, which by that time had launched the procedure to leave the EU, also attended to the creation of a similar zone with Japan, that is, with one of the world’s economic leaders, de facto heading the regional association The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Significantly, the efforts by the current British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (who clearly claims to be the next “British Iron Lady”) ensured the success of the long process of preparing for the signing of a Japanese-British document similar to the Japanese-European agreement. Apparently, the process of the UK joining the CPTPP is also in the final stages.
The latest trip to Europe by the Japanese PM, however, shows that the sphere denoted by the generalized category “defense and security” is beginning to acquire more and more importance in its relations with the leading countries of the continent. Commenting on the talks held in Madrid with Euro-Atlantic partners, Fumio Kishida pointed to his government’s desire to raise its level of cooperation with NATO. At the same time, he noted the extreme importance of his first participation in a summit of this organization.
Summing up the main results of the last European tour of the country’s prime minister, one of Japan’s leading newspapers, “Yomiuri Shimbun,” notes that Fumio Kishida played the role of “a bridge between Europe and the Indo-Pacific region in the face of fears regarding the growth of China’s hegemonic behavior.”
Pay attention to this remark because it states the difference in understanding of the sources of the main threats by Japan and its Euro-Atlantic partners. As noted above, Russia is such a source for the latter. Fumio Kishida refers to the Ukrainian conflict, but rather as an instance of something similar possibly happening in the space surrounding Japan.
The assessment of the results of the last NATO summit, expressed in the “Madrid Declaration,” and voiced by the leadership of the Russian Foreign Ministry, appears quite accurate.
The author nevertheless considered it necessary to express his own opinion regarding the very fact of this document’s appearance. It would seem that with the current pace of change in the global environment, the price of such papers is “a dime a dozen.” Does anyone recall the “climate” declaration, signed with equal fanfare less than a year ago in Edinburgh and largely by the same actors? The ink on the signatures hadn’t even dried before the massive purchase of coal began.
Three months earlier, the same signatures had appeared on other “fateful” papers which provided for finding (God knows where) completely unimaginable sums in order to battle China in the countries of the “third world.” Nothing has been heard about someone not only citing, but even just remembering the multi-page “Cornwall Consensus.”
So, let’s breathe evenly and do everything possible so that the current global “haze” passes as quickly as possible and without any particularly catastrophic costs. And let’s not lose hope for the possibility of positive relations with certain elements of the “generalized West.”
This kind of positive turn is needed above all by the latter. All together, but mainly individually. Otherwise, the “generalized West” as a concept will increasingly reflect emptiness. Despite the US president’s mantras about “unity” that sound more like “Freudian slips.”
Among the countries still included in the “generalized West,” Japan is yet trying to show that it is by no means the most unpromising potential partner for Russia.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.