TOKYO: Japan, which keeps in step with the United States and European countries in imposing strong sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, also wants Southeast Asian nations to get tough against Moscow in order to prevent a sanctions loophole and boost the effectiveness of the measures in place.
The task to expand the united front against Russia is not easy, because some countries in Southeast Asia traditionally have strong relations with Moscow.
In Tokyo on Saturday, Japan and the Philippines, a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, held the first two-plus-two security talks among their foreign and defense ministers.
On the Ukraine crisis, the ministers said in a joint statement that they “shared the view that aggression against a U.N. member state, which infringes upon its sovereignty and territorial integrity, constitutes a serious violation of international law prohibiting the use of force and is a grave breach of the U.N. Charter,” the statement did not name Russia or touch on sanctions against the nation.
Among the 10 ASEAN nations, Vietnam and Laos, both socialist countries, have deep relations with Russia. At an emergency meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Thursday, a resolution to suspend Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council was passed with a majority vote, with support from more than 90 countries, including Japan, the United States, Britain and France but Vietnam and Laos were among some 20 countries that voted against it.
ASEAN as a whole is also reluctant to take a resolute stance against Russia.
In a joint statement issued March 3, foreign ministers from ASEAN member states called for a ceasefire in the war in Ukraine, but avoided a direct reference to Russia. After that, only Singapore decided sanctions against Moscow.
Japanese Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio and his Cambodian counterpart, Hun Sen, called for “an immediate stop of the use of force and the withdrawal of the military forces from the territory of Ukraine” in a joint statement released after their meeting in Phnom Penh in March, Russia was not named in the statement.
A Japanese Foreign Ministry official said: “Countries in Southeast Asia are not strong. With no U.N. Security Council resolution (against Russia) having been issued, they are finding it difficult to impose sanctions on Russia.”
“Each country has its own circumstances, so we can’t force them” to impose sanctions, a senior official at the ministry said.
Masahisa Sato, head of the Foreign Affairs Division of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, urged the Japanese government to work hard to prevent Asia from becoming a loophole in the sanctions against Russia.
At a parliamentary meeting April 1, Kishida said that the government will continue asking Asian nations to take a tough stand against Russia. But no major moves have been made since then.
The Kishida administration is struggling to deal with the matter in the face of strong pressure from the ruling party.