Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 9 April 2024


Japan Knows the Ukraine Stakes

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida Photo: Akio Kon/Bloomberg News

Critics of Ukraine aid sometimes say the war in Europe is a distraction from more serious threats in Asia. Perhaps Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida can disabuse them of this notion when he visits Washington this week.

Japan’s current security environment is “as severe and complex as it has ever been” since the end of World War II, says Noriyuki Shikata, a spokesman for the Prime Minister. “From the Japanese viewpoint, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not a faraway European question. If we allow Russia to unilaterally change its borders by force, this could have a negative impact on the Pacific region.”

Shingo Yamagami, former intelligence chief of Japan’s foreign ministry, says “there is a complete analogy” between “what Russia did vis-à-vis Ukraine and what China might do vis-à-vis Taiwan.” Japan also worries about deepening ties between Russia and China. North Korea has provided missiles and ammunition to Russia, and Tokyo fears Pyongyang may get missile and nuclear technology in return.


Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s strategic industries minister, recently visited Japan, and he says the Japanese understand how Russian aggression threatens global economic stability. “Japan wants to live in a world that’s predictable, stable, and where we can think about creating business opportunities instead of defensive lines,” he says.

Japan has pledged more than $12 billion in aid to Kyiv. Ukraine’s ministry of finance says Japan was its third largest financial donor last year, providing some $3.7 billion in budget support. Tokyo has also imposed extensive sanctions on Russia. In February Japan hosted a conference that resulted in 56 memorandums of understanding among the two governments and various institutions and businesses for economic development and reconstruction.

Japan’s humanitarian support goes beyond financial aid. Ukraine is now the most heavily mined country in the world, and Japan will help with the cleanup, drawing on expertise from removing mines and unexploded ordinance in Cambodia. Japan has provided portable X-ray and ultrasound machines and other life-saving equipment for regions of Ukraine where health facilities are under attack.

Japan has given Ukraine nonlethal equipment, including military vehicles, bulletproof vests, helmets, generators and rations. And in December Japan announced it would provide Patriot missiles to the U.S. The transfer can free up American Patriot stocks to send to Ukraine, and Japan has signaled willingness to consider doing the same with other weapons.

This is a welcome shift in Japanese foreign policy that reflects the seriousness of the current geopolitical moment. Japan recognizes that the threat to the well-being of free nations is global, which is more than we can say for some Republicans in Congress.

To China's frustration, the Aukus partnership between the U.S., U.K. and Australia to deliver Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines is gaining ground, despite funding challenges to the U.S. submarine industrial base. Images: U.S. Navy/Zuma Press/AP Composite: Mark Kelly


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Appeared in the April 9, 2024, print edition as 'Japan Knows the Ukraine Stakes'.

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