Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Diplomacy-Kishida's Bright Spot

Japan’s Work in Leading the G7

By Takuya Nishimura
, Senior Fellow, Former Editorial Writer for The Hokkaido Shimbun
The views expressed by the author are his own and are not associated with The Hokkaido Shimbun
You can find his blog, J Update here.
November 12, 2023. Special to Asia Policy Point

Diplomacy is one of the few bright spots for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who continues to suffer from a low domestic approval rating. The November 7th and 8th G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held in Tokyo should have been a good opportunity for him to demonstrate his leadership. Japan holds the G7 chair through the end of this year.

In the two-day meeting, Japan, through Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, successfully orchestrated a joint statement that addressed events in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank and continued to back Ukraine in its resistance to the Russian invasion. The joint statement also promoted an open Indo-Pacific region, made clear that the G7 countries would pursue their national interests in dealing with China, supported the sovereignty of countries in Central Asia and South Caucasus, criticized the destabilizing activities of Iran, and committed to deepening partnerships with African countries.

With respect to the Middle East more specifically, a joint statement called for humanitarian pauses in the war between Israel and Hamas. The chairwoman of the meeting, Foreign Minister Kamikawa, emphasized the significance of the G7 countries having agreed for the first time to issue a “unified message.” In her post-meeting press conference, Kamikawa said, “I think it is an important achievement for G7 to take responsibility on this issue and for Japan in fulfilling our role as the G7 chair this year.”

The inability to issue a unified message earlier lies largely at the feet of the Kishida administration. One month ago, Japan did not join the Joint Statement on Israel on October 9th, in which five leaders of G7 condemned the Hamas’ attack on Israel, calling it terrorist actions and supporting Israel’s right to self-defense. Two weeks later, Japan also opted out of the joint statement by six leaders on October 22nd, which called on Israel to adhere to international humanitarian law including the protection of civilians. Japan at last caught up with G7 at the Tokyo meeting, a month after the Hamas attack.

The joint statement of G7 foreign ministers issued in Tokyo treated Israel and Palestine with greater equivalency than the previous two statements. The November 8 statement expressed sympathy and extended condolences to the victims of the attacks as well as to Palestinians and Israelis who have died or injured. They statement called for “humanitarian pauses and corridors to facilitate urgently needed assistance, civilian movement, and the release of hostages.

Two days before the statement was released, U.S. President Joe Biden had proposed a “humanitarian pause” to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Japan as the chair country for the G7 meeting accordingly was expected include this concept in the statement. The U.S. leader rather than the Kishida administration thus carried the day on this matter.

Since Hamas attack in early October, Japan has been keeping its channels open with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. In a meeting with the Israeli Foreign Minister on November 3, Foreign Minister Kamikawa stated that all parties to the conflict must act in accordance with international law in. In Gaza, she offered an additional humanitarian support. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visits to Israel and Gaza a few days later overshadowed Kamikawa’s visit, however.

A few days after G7 foreign ministers issued the statement, Israel agreed to four-hour daily humanitarian pauses in its assault on Hamas in northern Gaza. Asked about the pause and humanitarian corridor in a press conference, Kamikawa avoided connecting Israel’s decision with for the G7 joint statement. Thus, Japan’s role in the G7 on the issue of Middle East is still unclear.

Regarding Russia and Ukraine, Japan’s relations with Russia have been deteriorating for some time, including on the issue of the Northern Territory of Japan. As a result, Japan has strongly opposed Russia on the invasion of Ukraine Japan’s position was captured in a sentence in the joint statement: “A just and lasting peace cannot be realized without the immediate, complete, and unconditional withdrawal of Russia’s troops and military equipment from the internationally recognized territory of Ukraine.”

In supporting Ukraine, because constitutional limits prevent Japan from providing much military assistance, Japan has focused on post-war reconstruction efforts. Former Minister for Foreign Affairs Yoshimasa Hayashi visited Kyiv in September with a business delegation from Japan. Hence this sentence in the G7 foreign ministers’ statement: “We are also working to involve our private sectors in the sustainable economic recovery of Ukraine.”

The Kishida administration will send the state ministers Kazuchika Iwata (METI) and Iwao Horii (MOFA) to Ukraine with another business delegation next week. Japan will host a conference for the economic reconstruction of Ukraine next February. But it is too early to talk about business deals while fierce battles rage in the eastern part of Ukraine.

As for the Indo-Pacific region, Japan deserves the credit for including the region’s issues in the G7 agenda. When Hamas attacked Israel in early October, Kamikawa was on a trip to ASEAN countries to reinforce Japan’s ties with them and counteract China’s advance in the region. The G7 foreign ministers’ statement noted that they would continue their endeavors towards a free and open Indo-Pacific, which is inclusive, prosperous, secure, and based on the rule of law.

The statement also supported Japan’s discharge of treated water from crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. “We welcome Japan’s safe, transparent, and science-based process, including the continued monitoring of the situation, to responsibly manage of Advanced Liquid Processing System treated water,” said the statement. Japan’s dispute with China over the treated water remains unresolved.

On China, the G7 foreign ministers expressed their concern “about the situation in the East and South China Seas, strongly opposing any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion.” Further, the foreign ministers “reaffirm the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait as indispensable to security and prosperity in the international community and call for the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.” Those arguments are in harmony with Japan’s interests.

Notwithstanding the many vital world events discussed at the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting, the meeting has not contributed to the Kishida administration’s popular standing so far. Kamikawa observed in her press conference that Japan’s term as the G7 chair remains for as much as two months. She hopes to reach out to the “global south” in the meetings of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in San Francisco this week. Kishida will also have important meetings with world leaders in the backdrop to APEC. Success or failure in those meetings may affect the fortunes of the Kishida administration to a much greater degree.

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