Opinion

How Japan’s global role has been transformed

How Japan’s global role has been transformed

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A major new defense pact signed last week between Japan and Australia highlights  Tokyo’s growing strategic importance as a partner in an emerging international, anti-China alliance.

The reciprocal access agreement, which has been under negotiation since 2014, eases restrictions on the movement of weapons and supplies for joint training and disaster relief operations. It is the first deal of its kind that Japan has struck with another nation since the status of forces agreement with the US more than 60 years ago. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida lauded the agreement as “a landmark instrument which will elevate security cooperation between the nations to new heights.”

The deal, which comes after last year’s 75th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in the Second World War, underlines the importance of Tokyo’s role in the Western alliance.

Japan is a longstanding member of Western clubs such as the G7, plus the Quad, and there is growing speculation that it could be invited to join the so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance. Meanwhile, it has been suggested the latest agreement could become a “template” for other Western nations, such as the UK, seeking to establish a stronger regional presence.

A key part of the rationale for Japan’s growing geopolitical importance is that, just as at the start of the Cold War, it is perceived in the West as a bulwark against the advance of China, and potentially Russia, in the Asia-Pacific. Yet, while considerable emphasis is put on the security pillar of the Japanese-Western alliance, economics is important, too.

Since the end of the Second World War, the transformation of Japan’s world role has stemmed, in part, from its phenomenal business success. This has led to growing calls for Tokyo to match its economic power with a commitment to international political relations. Today, Japan remains one of the world’s three largest economies, and it will be critical to helping rejuvenate global growth after the shock of the coronavirus crisis. 

Outside the US, many other Western countries, including in Europe, welcome Japan’s invigorated commitment to international trade. Tokyo has not only signed a bilateral agreement with Washington in recent years, but also committed to an EU-Japan trade deal covering around a third of global gross domestic product and almost 650 million people. Moreover, Tokyo was at the vanguard of the so-called comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, or CPTPP, which accounts for about 13 percent of global trade and a combined population of around 500 million. 

A key part of the rationale for Japan’s growing geopolitical importance is that, just as at the start of the Cold War, it is perceived in the West as a bulwark against the advance of China, and potentially Russia, in the Asia-Pacific.

Andrew Hammond

Beyond these structural factors driving Japanese international policy, the previous Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe — the longest-serving premier in the nation’s history — proved personally adept at consolidating relationships with Western leaders. These included Donald Trump, who during the 2016 election campaign had been highly critical of Tokyo. 

Abe was one of the few foreign leaders to bring Trump “onside.” This helped to neutralize the former president’s previous criticism of what he characterised as unfair Japanese trade practices regarding car imports and exports, as well as accusations that Tokyo was using monetary policy to devalue its currency and boost exports.

Trump repeatedly highlighted Washington’s commitment to the security of Japan, saying that the relationship is the “cornerstone of peace” in the Asia-Pacific. This despite his 2016 assertions that the bilateral relationship had become too one-sided, and that Japan needed to share more of the financial burden in international security. 

Unquestionably, the major driver in the increasing strength of US-Japan ties is China. Here, Tokyo has been reassured by Washington following earlier worries after the US withdrawal from the CPTPP, which had been originally intended by the Obama administration to lock the US into deeper strategic partnerships in the region.

In this fluid geopolitical landscape, Abe sought to significantly increase defense spending, as well as overturn some legal and political underpinnings of the country’s post-1945 security identity so that it could become more externally engaged.

Among the measures Abe sought to abolish was a clause in Japan’s post-war constitution limiting the country’s military to a strictly defensive role, which means  that defense spending has remained mostly below 1 percent of GDP since 1945. 

However, the two-thirds majority needed in both chambers of the Japanese legislature, plus a simple majority in a national referendum, proved an insuperable obstacle, even for Abe.

Japan is the only country in the world ever to have been attacked with nuclear weapons, and there remains a large body of public opinion that continues to value post-war pacifism. This will continue to act as a restraint on foreign policy, despite the nation’s new willingness to adopt a bigger posture in the region.

Andrew Hammond is an Associate at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Is it the end of Japan’s neutrality?

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Japanese diplomat Tatsunori Motoki was ordered out of Russia over spying claims. (AFP)
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A Chinese ‘live fire’ drill in disputed waters of the East China Sea drew an angry response from Japan. (AFP file)
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Warships from Japan, India, Australia and the US take part in the Malabar naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean on Oct. 12, 2020. (Indian Navy via AFP)
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This handout photo taken on March 24, 2022 shows a missile being launched from North Korea toward around the Sea of Japan during a live-fire exercise. (South Korean Defense Ministry via AFP)
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A Chinese ‘live fire’ drill in disputed waters of the East China Sea drew an angry response from Japan. (AFP file)
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Updated 29 September 2022

Is it the end of Japan’s neutrality?

  • Detention of consul by Russia for alleged spying comes hard on the heels of defense deals with Israel
  • Twin developments have called into question Japan’s neutrality, exposed its diplomatic vulnerabilities

DUBAI: As the security environment surrounding Japan becomes more severe, maintaining a favorable balance of power has become an increasingly delicate task for Tokyo, which faces challenges on three major strategic fronts: China, North Korea and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Yet, two developments in the space of just two months have called Japan’s neutrality into question and exposed its diplomatic vulnerabilities.

In the latest incident, the principal security agency of Russia on Monday detained a Japanese consul in Vladivostok, in the country’s far east, on suspicion that he was obtaining information illegally in exchange for money.

The diplomat, Tatsunori Motoki, was subsequently ordered by the Russian Foreign Ministry to leave the country within 48 hours and an announcement made to the effect that a senior Japanese Embassy official in Moscow had been summoned to protest against his alleged improper acquisition of information.




Japanese diplomat Tatsunori Motoki was ordered out of Russia over spying claims. (AFP)

“A Japanese diplomat was detained red-handed while receiving classified information, in exchange for money, about Russia’s cooperation with another country in the Asia-Pacific region,” the FSB security service said in a statement quoted by Russian news media.

On Tuesday, a Japanese government official said the consul had been released.

Nevertheless, on the same day, Takeo Mori, Japan’s vice foreign minister, summoned Mikhail Galuzin, the Russian ambassador, to the foreign ministry’s office in Tokyo to lodge a formal a protest over the Japanese consul’s detention.

Separately, Hayashi Yoshimasa, the foreign minister, said that detaining and interrogating a consul is a “clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations,” as well as of a consular treaty between Japan and Russia.

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$40 billion - Amount sought by Japan’s defense ministry for budget as country faces its ‘toughest challenges’ since the Second World War.

Hayashi said Russia’s action was “totally unacceptable,” and claimed that Motoki was taken away blindfolded and restrained before being subjected to high-handed questioning.

He denied the Russian allegation that Motoki had engaged in illegal activities.

Russia’s Federal Security Service said the Japanese consul obtained nonpublic information on Russia’s cooperative ties with an unnamed Asia-Pacific country and also on the effects of Western sanctions on the economic situation in Russia’s Far East by offering money.

The Russian agency also released secretly shot images of a person who appears to be the consul receiving documents at a restaurant.

Russia recently designated Japan as an unfriendly country in response to Tokyo’s cooperation with US and European countries on imposing sanctions on Moscow following its invasion of Ukraine.




Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Japan's Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada (R) signing the Japan-Israel Defense exchange memorandum of understanding in Tokyo on August 30, 2022. (AFP)

The first diplomatic development that cast doubt on Japan’s neutrality was its decision sign a defense agreement with Israel in August.

The deal was part of an effort to boost defense cooperation between the two countries, particularly in the area of military hardware and technology. But it potentially diminishes Tokyo’s ability to remain even-handed when it come to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Japan has long been hailed as an impartial broker of a future deal between Israel and the Palestinians. In 2019, a joint Arab News Japan-YouGov survey found that 56 percent of Arabs view Japan as the most credible potential candidate to act as a Middle East peace mediator.

On his trip to Tokyo, Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, met with Hayashi, who took pains to reiterate his government’s support for a two-state solution to solve the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Japanese analyst Koichiro Tanaka, a professor at Tokyo’s Keio University, believes the expansion of the Abraham Accords, the normalization agreements signed between Israel and several Arab states in 2020, has relieved Japan of this mediator role.

“Japan feels relieved from the pressure that existed in trying to balance its Middle East policy with its energy security,” Tanaka told Arab News Japan.

Mindful of the need to maintain allies in its own standoff with China, Japan’s primary foreign-policy goal has been to “appease Washington,” he said. With that comes the expectation of “making friends” with Israel.




Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Japan's Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada (R) during their bilateral defense meeting in Tokyo on August 30, 2022. (AFP)

“Japan’s role to mediate has never materialized because of US reluctance and rejection by Israel of such a role,” Tanaka said.

The Abraham Accords were the first public expressions of normalization between Arab states and Israel since 1994. When the agreements were announced, Tomoyuki Yoshida, Japan’s former foreign press secretary, called it a “positive development” that could “ease tensions and stabilize the region.”

He reiterated that Japan supported a “two-state solution” whereby Israel and a future independent Palestinian state “live side by side in peace and security.”




In this December 25, 2017 photo, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono (L) meets with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP file)

However, with Japan’s increasingly tense relationship with China and North Korea, the country has been expanding its military cooperation beyond its traditional ally, the US, to other nations in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.

It is particularly concerned about Beijing’s military actions in the East and South China Seas. Israel has previously traded weapons with China and is the second-largest foreign supplier of arms after Russia.

China has accumulated a large arsenal of advanced military equipment and technology. The US has strongly opposed Israel’s arms trade with China. However, Israel has largely ignored Washington’s objections.

Some observers suspect Israel and China’s close trade relationship is the reason Japan has chosen to boost defense cooperation with Israel.

Japanese military strategists have been looking for ways to ease their defensive reliance on the US, potentially viewing Israel as a source of weapons and technology to strengthen Tokyo’s military power in the region.

But with the signing of the new defense deal with Israel, is Tokyo still in a position to mediate between Israel and Palestine?

Waleed Siam, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Tokyo, told Arab News Japan that the Japanese government is “mostly supportive” of the two sides.

“Japan has a long history with Israel, but I believe Japan could still be part of the neutrality in helping both sides achieve settlements,” he said.

Siam said Palestinians, and the Arab world in general, have great respect for Japan, noting that Tokyo “always has supported the Palestinians to the highest degree, through many UN organizations.

“Japan is committed to helping the state of Palestine and has also always stuck to the UN resolution, refusing to recognize East Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and never recognized Israel’s illegal settlements.”




Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (2nd-L) and Japanese PM Fumio Kishida talk during their bilateral meeting at Akasaka Palace state guest house in Tokyo on September 28, 2022. (AFP)

Asked whether Japan should have first reassured the Palestinian side of its continued neutrality before striking its security deal with Israel, Siam said Tokyo has the “right to do what it wants.”

He added: “Japan does not have to guarantee anything, because it stands very firm on its conviction with the international community and the UN resolution. It supports a two-state solution and the Palestinians’ right to independence.

“Even during the Trump period, when the former US president was pressuring everyone to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Japan stood strong in the UN and voted against it.”

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However, Siam believes any country that signs an agreement with Israel should also place an emphasis on compliance with international law and human rights.

“I call on Japan to use this kind of deep friendship with Israel to put pressure on the Israelis to comply with international law,” said Siam. “If the international community does not stand together and pressure Israel into a two-state solution, there will never be peace.”

Israel has been the “largest obstacle” to finalizing a large agro-industrial park and logistics initiative in Jericho, proposed by Japan, called the “Corridor for Peace,” said Siam.

Japan, he argues, could utilize its deepening relations with Israel to help finalize the project.

During the 11-day war in Gaza in May 2021, Japan was adamant that all UN resolutions and international laws should be followed, reiterating its “clear, respecting and supporting” position in the conflict, said Siam.

Japan has long framed itself as the country most capable of negotiating a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

In the final analysis, few can argue that strengthening its military capabilities and investing in defense technology is a step in the right direction by Japan. But it clearly needs to be more diplomatic in pulling them off.

 

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UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal

Updated 53 min 26 sec ago

UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal

  • United Nations: 339 million people worldwide will need some form of emergency assistance next year
  • UN aid chief Martin Griffiths: ‘next year is going to be the biggest humanitarian program’ the world has ever seen

GENEVA: The UN appealed for record funds for aid next year, as the Ukraine war and other conflicts, climate emergencies and the still-simmering pandemic push more people into crisis, and some toward famine.
The United Nations’ annual Global Humanitarian Overview estimated that 339 million people worldwide will need some form of emergency assistance next year — a staggering 65 million more people than the estimate a year ago.
“It’s a phenomenal number and it’s a depressing number,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told reporters in Geneva, adding that it meant “next year is going to be the biggest humanitarian program” the world has ever seen.
If all the people in need of emergency assistance were in one country, it would be the third-largest nation in the world, after China and India, he said.
And the new estimate means that one in 23 people will need help in 2023, compared to one in 95 back in 2015.
As the extreme events seen in 2022 spill into 2023, Griffiths described the humanitarian needs as “shockingly high.”
“Lethal droughts and floods are wreaking havoc in communities from Pakistan to the Horn of Africa,” he said, also pointing to the war in Ukraine, which “has turned a part of Europe into a battlefield.”
The annual appeal by UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations said that providing aid to the 230 million most vulnerable people across 68 countries would require a record $51.5 billion.
That was up from the $41 billion requested for 2022, although the sum has been revised up to around $50 billion during the year — with less than half of that sought-for amount funded.
“For people on the brink, this appeal is a lifeline,” Griffiths said.
The report presented a depressing picture of soaring needs brought on by a range of conflicts, worsening instability and a deepening climate crisis.
“There is no doubt that 2023 is going to perpetuate these on-steroids trends,” Griffiths warned.
The overlapping crises have already left the world dealing with the “largest global food crisis in modern history,” the UN warned.
It pointed out that at least 222 million people across 53 countries were expected to face acute food insecurity by the end of this year, with 45 million of them facing the risk of starvation.
“Five countries already are experiencing what we call famine-like conditions, in which we can confidently, unhappily, say that people are dying as a result,” Griffiths said.
Those countries — Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Haiti, Somalia and South Sudan — have seen portions of their populations face “catastrophic hunger” this year, but have not yet seen country-wide famines declared.
Forced displacement is meanwhile surging, with the number of people living as refugees, asylum seekers or displaced inside their own country passing 100 million — over one percent of the global population — for the first time this year.
“And all of this on top of the devastation left by the pandemic among the world’s poorest,” Griffiths said, also pointing to outbreaks of mpox, previously known as monkeypox, Ebola, cholera and other diseases.
Conflicts have taken a dire toll on a range of countries, not least on Ukraine, where Russia’s full-scale invasion in February has left millions in dire need.
The global humanitarian plan will aim to provide $1.7 billion in cash assistance to 6.3 million people inside the war-torn country, and also $5.7 billion to help the millions of Ukrainians and their host communities in surrounding countries.
More than 28 million people are meanwhile considered to be in need in drought-hit Afghanistan, which last year saw the Taliban sweep back into power, while another eight million Afghans and their hosts in the region also need assistance.
More than $5 billion has been requested to address that combined crisis, while further billions were requested to help the many millions of people impacted by the years-long conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
The appeal also highlighted the dire situation in Ethiopia, where worsening drought and a two-year-conflict in Tigray have left nearly 29 million people in desperate need of assistance.
Faced with such towering needs, Griffiths said he hoped 2023 would be a year of “solidarity, just as 2022 has been a year of suffering.”

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Ten killed in bombing of Afghan religious school — Taliban official

Updated 30 November 2022

Ten killed in bombing of Afghan religious school — Taliban official

  • No group has claimed responsibility, though Daesh has been waging violence in Afghanistan
  • Samangan province, where the incident took place, has a majority population of ethnic Uzbeks

ISLAMABAD: A bomb blast hit a religious school in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least 10 students, a Taliban official said.

The explosion went off at around the time of afternoon prayers at the Al Jihad Madrassa in Aybak, capital of Samangan province, a resident of the city who heard the explosion told The Associated Press. Most of the students at the school are young boys, said the resident, speaking on condition of anonymity for his own safety.

Video distributed by the Taliban to the media showed the blast site, a hall littered with debris, mats and shoes, with dead bodies and bloodstains on the floor. Sirens can be heard in the background and men, some of them armed, move through the hall surveying the explosion’s aftermath.

Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Takor said a number of students were wounded in the attack. Samangan province has a majority population of ethnic Uzbeks.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the Afghan affiliate of the Daesh group has been waging a campaign of violence that escalated since the Taliban took power in August 2021.

Daesh has carried out bombings targeting in particular Afghanistan’s Shiite Muslim minority but has also targeted Sunni mosques and madrassas, especially ones connected to the Taliban. The Taliban and the Daesh group both adhere to a hard-line ideology but are bitter rivals.


EU proposal would send proceeds of frozen Russian funds to Ukraine

Updated 30 November 2022

EU proposal would send proceeds of frozen Russian funds to Ukraine

  • Moscow says seizing its funds or those of its citizens amounts to theft
  • "Russia must ... pay financially for the devastation that it caused," Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU's executive said

BRUSSELS: The European Commission proposed a plan on Wednesday to compensate Ukraine for damage from Russia’s invasion with proceeds from investing Russian funds frozen under sanctions.
Officials in the EU, United States and other Western countries have long debated whether Ukraine can benefit from frozen Russian assets, including around $300 billion of Russia’s central bank reserves and $20 billion held by blacklisted Russians.
Moscow says seizing its funds or those of its citizens amounts to theft.
“Russia must ... pay financially for the devastation that it caused,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU’s executive said in a statement.
“The damage suffered by Ukraine is estimated at 600 billion euros. Russia and its oligarchs have to compensate Ukraine for the damage and cover the costs for rebuilding the country.”
European Commission officials said that one short-term option for Western nations would be to create a fund to manage and invest liquid assets of the central bank, and use the proceeds to support Ukraine.
The assets would be returned to their owners when sanctions were lifted, which could be part of a peace agreement that ensured Ukraine received compensation for damages.
“It’s not easy so it will require strong backing from the international community but we believe it is doable,” one official said.
With regard to the frozen assets of private individuals and entities, seizing these is usually only legally possible where there is a criminal conviction.
The Commission has proposed that violations of sanctions could be classified as an offense that would allow confiscation.
Von der Leyen also said that the Commission was proposing the establishment of a specialized court, backed by the United Nations, “to investigate and prosecute Russia’s crime of aggression.”
Moscow denies its invasion, which it calls a “special military operation,” constitutes aggression, a war crime under international law.


French authorities rescue 61 migrants including Pakistanis in English Channel

Updated 30 November 2022

French authorities rescue 61 migrants including Pakistanis in English Channel

  • This was one of the largest emergency operations in recent months 
  • Afghan, Indian, Iranian and Pakistani nationals were aboard the dinghy

BOULOGNE, France: French authorities rescued 61 migrants including small children in the English Channel on Tuesday in one of the largest emergency operations in recent months as calm seas drew a rush of migrants in small boats toward the coast of Britain.

Rescue workers in the port of Boulogne, where the migrants were brought ashore, said about 30 people had to be plucked out of the cold waters as they rushed to climb aboard a French rescue vessel from their rubber dinghy, which had been taking on water.

Officials said the rescue took place about one nautical mile inside British territorial waters.

Afghan, Indian, Iranian and Pakistani nationals were aboard the dinghy, which left the French coast in the small hours of the morning, the refugees said.

At the quayside, the migrants were handed fresh clothing and heat-retaining blankets by emergency workers.

French police earlier on Tuesday had stopped close to 50 migrants from trying to cross the Channel to Britain after mild weather and calm waters led a growing number of people to undertake the dangerous journey in recent days.

Guy Allemand, mayor of the small village of Sangatte near Calais, said some migrants had been forced by police to turn back, but that another 100 had made it to the open waters.

He told Reuters that migrant trafficking networks had recently changed their methods.

“They [traffickers] now arrive with ‘taxi boats’ and the refugees are being asked to run into the water to catch them ... rather than launching their own boats from the beach,” he said.

So far this year more than 40,000 people have crossed the Channel to Britain in small boats, up from 28,526 in 2021. Unusually mild November weather led to a hike in departures.

Earlier this month, Britain and France signed an agreement worth 72.2 million euros ($74.5 million) over the coming year to ramp up joint efforts to prevent illegal migrants making perilous journeys across the Channel.


Australian parliament censures former PM Morrison over secret ministries

Updated 30 November 2022

Australian parliament censures former PM Morrison over secret ministries

  • It marks the first time a former prime minister has been censured by parliament, though the motion is symbolic in nature

SYDNEY: Australia’s parliament on Wednesday voted to censure former Liberal prime minister Scott Morrison after an inquiry found his secret appointment to multiple ministries during the COVID-19 pandemic undermined trust in government.
Morrison, who lost power in a general election in May, secretly accumulated five ministerial roles during the pandemic: health, finance, treasury, resources and home affairs.
The historic motion, brought by the ruling Labor party, passed by 86 votes to 50 in the country’s lower house.
It marks the first time a former prime minister has been censured by parliament, though the motion is symbolic in nature.
“The fact is, that our democracy is precious,” Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said during the debate, speaking in favor of censuring Morrison.
“There’s no room for complacency.”
Morrison has said his decisions were lawful, and that the decision was necessary in case ministers became incapacitated during the pandemic.
“For those who wish to add their judgment today on my actions in supporting this censure motion, I simply suggest that they stop and consider the following: have you ever had to deal with a crisis where the outlook was completely unknown?,” Morrison said in parliament before the vote on Wednesday.
“In such circumstances, were you able to get all the decisions perfectly right?“
Morrison said he had only used the powers on one occasion, to block BPH Energy’s PEP-11 gas exploration project.
He accepted the recommendations of an inquiry into the appointment, including legislation requiring public notice of ministerial appointments.