23.03.2023 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Japan’s Prime Minister at the Center of Recent Regional Developments

Prime Minister of Japan

Fumio Kishida, the current Prime Minister of Japan, was at the heart of a number of significant events that occurred over the course of a very brief (one-week) period in March of this year and had a significant impact on the Indo-Pacific region as a whole. Furthermore, the sheer fact that these events are happening makes it increasingly obvious that Japan’s influence at the Great Global Game table is expanding.

The first event in the preceding chronology occurred on March 15-16. South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol paid a two-day visit to Tokyo, which was significant in itself, and met with Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. At the final news conference, the participants verbally conveyed the major outcomes of the discussions. Given that there have been no summits between Japan and South Korea since 2011, and that the relationship between the two countries has been, to put it mildly, very tense over the past two to three decades, the main success of this event should be seen in the fact that it even took place.

Among the various issues that have prevented these relations from becoming more or less trustworthy are recent legal claims by Seoul against Tokyo regarding the forced recruitment of Koreans for labor by some Japanese companies during World War II. It should be noted that, based on the public rallies held on the streets of Seoul during the president’s visit to Japan, the president’s intention to resolve this problem through some kind of compromise is not met with undivided enthusiasm among his countrymen.

Naturally, the mere fact that these talks took place was met with complete acceptance in Washington, where plans to form a trilateral alliance have long been nurtured, despite the turmoil between Tokyo and Seoul. However, the press conference also mentioned the importance of restarting the stalled trilateral talks with the participation of Beijing. That is, Japan and South Korea are by no means closing the window of opportunity for developing relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as well.

The day after this event, Fumio Kishida held another, no less significant one related to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit to Japan on March 18. Let us reiterate what was previously noted in the NEO in the context of last November’s bilateral meeting in the 2+2 format (that is, with the participation of foreign and defense ministers): namely, the United Kingdom remains the leader among Japan’s partners, despite the growing importance of the European vector in Tokyo’s foreign policy.

This is especially true in the defense sector, as evidenced by the March 17 meeting of the defense ministers of Japan, Britain and Italy in Tokyo (on the eve of the Fumio Kishida – Olaf Scholz summit). One of the primary topics of discussion at this occasion was the implementation of the Japanese-British effort to develop a sixth-generation fighter jet. Now, Italy will be one of its co-executors.

The sides formed Inter-Governmental Consultations (IGC) with a primary focus on economic security in a Joint Statement signed at the conclusion of the 1st Japan-Germany Inter-Governmental Consultations. Note, however, that during the activities that followed the German Chancellor’s visit to Japan, significant emphasis was paid to the security sector even in the “usual” interpretation.

Overall, the outcomes of the recent Japanese-German summit show the growth of the key World War II losers’ process of “moving by touch” towards one another.

Two days later, the Japanese Prime Minister traveled to India for three days where he met with Narendra Modi. Since we are discussing the potential for the establishment of relationships between two of the many major players in the developing regional game, this event, out of all those previously discussed, has garnered the greatest interest. Despite the fact that the numbers describing the current level of bilateral economic cooperation appear to be fairly low in comparison to what each member has accomplished, for instance, with China and the United States.

We highlight two of the tangible outcomes of Fumio Kishida’s journey. Initially, it was declared that a program to extend Japan’s economic presence in the Indo Pacific Region and in general in countries now popularly referred to as the “Global South” would be launched. Second, as the organizer of all G7 events this year, Narendra Modi was invited as a guest to the next summit in the given configuration, which is slated for May and will be held in Hiroshima.

The fact that this invitation has been extended fits well into the strategy of the United States, as the head of the “generalized West,” to include India in the camp (which is still fairly ambiguous), which seeks confrontation with the PRC and the Russian Federation. Japan, on the other hand, is clearly designated as a regional representative in this camp.

Clearly, China keeps an eye on all significant Tokyo maneuvers in the Indo-Pacific region. Among those mentioned above, the last one was especially keenly observed, since it was used by the Chinese Global Times to signal the possibility of opposing blocs forming in the region. This is in stark contrast to the current PRC leadership’s perspective of the world, which holds that all nations must cooperate to create a “Community of Common Destiny.”

 Consider the following remarkable occurrence that took place at the leaders Olaf Scholz and Fumio Kishida’s final press conference. We are discussing the subtle differences in how each of them responded when asked about their views on the controversial ruling by the International Criminal Court that designated President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, as a defendant (for whatever reason). In response to the question, Fumio Kishida said that he would hope to “monitor with strong interest” how the investigation developed. Which is true, given that a politician of his stature needs to be aware of everything somewhat “interesting” that occurs at the global gaming table. Yet that is obviously not what German Chancellor Olaf Scholz permitted himself to do. Rather vaguely but he endorsed his justice minister’s vow to detain the Russian president if he appeared on German soil.

In connection with the approaches to some of the “values” that his G7 colleagues are vigorously promoting, the author has already had reason to suspect the current Japanese Prime Minister of being a “dissenter“. And new facts only strengthen these suspicions. For example, the same-sex marriage bill is still being lengthily discussed. All questions should have been answered, though, now that the US ambassador to Tokyo has himself! hinted very openly on how the problem should be resolved.

For a long time, Fumio Kishida also avoided answering directly another question with which he was constantly pestered by reporters. Specifically, when will he travel to Kiev, which the unnamed director of the current world drama has selected as a location of devotion, which every member of the free-democratic-civilized world should visit and bring with him the necessary offerings. Greta Thunberg previously held a position identical to this one. It is possible that in addition to Japan’s obvious interest in preserving the window of opportunity for developing relations with Russia in recent decades, Fumio Kishida was also guided by some (unavailable to “others”) information about the state and prospects of the conflict in Ukraine itself.

An apparently strange claim that certain “pro-Ukrainian troops” were responsible for the bombing of gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea—truly the Crime of the Century—attracted attention in this regard. But the most important thing is apparently the message to the Kiev clowns, who are now being urged to be ready to take responsibility for everything. For example, for the Turkish earthquake. They probably rode too high on the Maidan, upsetting the tectonic plates, which started moving under one another and, ten years later, collided in a country that genuinely provided Bayraktars to Ukraine, causing an earthquake. And it took place right before the Ukraine project needed to be finished.

But, this final display of “dissent” was obviously short-lived. After all, two months later, Fumio Kishida will have to host his G7 colleagues. So he didn’t have to fly home from New Delhi, but had to make a long detour with a short stopover in Kiev. Yet, the “offerings” being brought do not appear to have contained any overtly ritual anti-Russian elements.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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