Small steps in the Ukraine crisis are reflective of what one Japanese government official called a “big awakening” about Japan’s role in a harsh new world.
Japan took a dose of verbal abuse from China last year after one Japanese government leader suggested any attack on Taiwan would have repercussions for Japan. Japan then observed how its major ally and protector, the United States, fumbled as it left Afghanistan. And now comes the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
As a result, Japan is taking proactive steps in the midst of the Ukraine crisis that break with its past — such as accepting refugees and sending military hardware to Ukraine, according to The Washington Post.
“Japan needs to implement a fundamental upgrade of its defense capabilities,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said recently.
“This is the occasion to show our solidarity, and if we let these kind of things happen, our neighbor — Russia’s neighbor, as well — may take such action as well, that can change the status quo, and that’s not what we want to see,” said Ichiro Fujisaki, a former Japanese ambassador to the United States. “I’m talking about China, of course.”
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The Ukraine invasion has highlighted the limits of the world community to rein in nations.
“It’s a big awakening that there are limitations to what the U.N. can do, limitations to what diplomacy can do, limitations to what economic sanctions can do,” said Akihisa Shiozaki of the governing Liberal Democratic Party.
“It’s not about rewriting the boundaries of what Japan can do, but filling in the details of what we may not fully anticipate, or may have overlooked, in our preparation,” he said.
The next time the world has a refugee crisis, it could be closer to home, he explained.
“In considering future crisis scenarios in East Asia, including the Taiwan contingency, it is necessary to build and maintain the capacity to respond to refugees in times of emergency, even in peacetime,” he said.
“Japan faces different risks coming from multiple fronts,” said defense expert Heigo Sato, a professor at the Institute of World Studies at Takushoku University in Tokyo, according to ABC.
Germany, which has avoided any connection with military action since World War II, reversed the policy to aid Ukraine, making Japan consider changing its traditional stance, said one observer.
“Japan is watching now, very much attentively, how Germany is responding to the Ukraine crisis and how fundamentally Germany is transforming to adapt itself to new reality,” said Yoichi Funabashi, the chairman of the Tokyo-based think tank Asia Pacific Initiative, the Post reported.
“Prime Minister Kishida has stepped up and stepped onto the global stage in a significant way,” U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said.
“Japan is responding on a global scale with the speed we have not seen and is making a difference. It has made the opposition to Russia a global one, not just European.”
Last year, Japan’s defense minister, Nobuo Kishi, had been looking at European nations for help against China, which he said was “attempting to use its power to unilaterally change the status quo in the East and South China Seas,” according to the Guardian.
Japan has “strong concerns in regards to the safety and security of not only our own country and the region but for the global community,” Kishi warned. “China is strengthening its military power, both in terms of quantity and quality, and rapidly improving its operational capability.”
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