Japan in step with G7 over sanctioning Russia

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi speaks during the annual Munich Security Conference, in Munich on Saturday.

Japan will in principle take concerted action with the Group of Seven nations in imposing economic sanctions on Russia if that nation invades Ukraine, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

“We reconfirmed our cooperation through a candid exchange of views [on the situation in Ukraine],” Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters online on Saturday. Hayashi was in Germany to attend the G7 foreign ministers meeting.

When Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in southern Ukraine in 2014, relations between Tokyo and Moscow were good, with then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin frequently holding talks. The United States and the European Union imposed economic sanctions on Russia at the time, but Japan implemented only minor measures, including the suspension of negotiations on easing visa requirements, as it had high hopes for the resolution of the northern territories issue.

In light of the criticism from Europe and the United States at the time, as well as the current stagnation in peace treaty negotiations — including those related to the northern territories — the Japanese government will likely consider taking more effective measures this time than it did following the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

Japan will “choose feasible sanctions based on the current circumstances of the two countries while cooperating with the G7,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

The government’s current stance reflects changes in the regional situation in Asia.

“The main battlefield is in Europe, but if we allow the status quo to change, we must be aware that it may have an impact on Asia as well,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said at a Thursday meeting with his faction members. His remarks could be interpreted as a veiled reference to China, which continues to attempt to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas and is heightening military pressure on Taiwan.

Beijing has expressed support for Moscow’s stance on Ukraine. If Japan takes a soft stance toward Russia, it could send the wrong message to China. Russia is more actively conducting military exercises in the Far East as well, in response to the situation in Ukraine.

As the only G7 member from Asia, Japan should strengthen its message that it will not tolerate any attempt by China and Russia to change the status quo, in a bid to minimize the impact on the region.