Leaders show determination to protect international order

Japan and the European Union, together with the United States and the United Kingdom, have a responsibility to support the international order, which has been shaken by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Based on the agreement reached by the leaders of Japan and the EU, cooperation must be expanded in this regard.

Japan and the EU have held a regular summit meeting in Tokyo. Their joint statement strongly condemned the invasion and stressed the need to strengthen cooperation to “restore peace and stability” and “uphold the U.N. Charter and international law.”

Cooperation toward a “free and open Indo-Pacific” was also noted in the statement, as well as an agreement to oppose attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force. It is highly significant that the two sides confirmed their joint efforts to check China’s increasing hegemonic behavior.

At the summit, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen commented that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have confirmed their friendship as being one without limits, which must be viewed as a challenge to the international order.

Europe has had a low threat perception toward geographically distant China compared to Russia, and has tended to focus on economic relations with Beijing. However, it has become increasingly wary following the invasion of Ukraine. Differences in views on China may have narrowed considerably between Japan and Europe.

China has not condemned Russia and continues to defend it at the United Nations. Beijing should recognize that the challenge to the international order by Russia and China is strengthening the unity of Japan, the United States and Europe.

The Japan-EU joint statement, while setting forth the expansion of sanctions against Russia, also stressed the need to maintain the stability of the energy market. The European Commission and the Group of Seven industrialized nations announced a series of policies earlier this month to ban imports of Russian oil.

The EU’s dependence on Russian energy is high. The equivalent of about ¥4.7 trillion was paid to Russia in a little over a month following the start of the invasion in late February. Reducing dependence on Russia and diversifying supply sources are essential to make it more difficult for Moscow to procure war funds.

The EU has begun to switch from Russian oil, which used to account for 27% of its oil imports, to Middle Eastern oil and other sources. Germany’s oil dependence on Russia, which exceeded 30% last year, has been reduced to 12%. Such efforts need to be expanded.

Russia is the source of 3.5% of Japan’s oil imports. Japan must focus on securing alternative sources and encouraging oil-producing countries to increase production. It is also important to utilize nuclear power plants whose safety has been confirmed.

The government intends to maintain its concessions in Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2, oil and natural gas development projects on the island of Sakhalin in Russia’s Far East. If Japan were to withdraw from the projects, a country such as China would possibly secure the concessions and Russia would feel no negative impact. Such a situation must be avoided.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 14, 2022)