HELPING UKRAINE WILL HELP JAPAN STAND TALL
World events are moving so fast it seems almost impossible to keep up.
On February 18, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Munich, Germany. He urged China to stop flying spy balloons in US territorial air space, and also declared that the US was concerned about China’s political assistance to Russia escalating to providing weapons and ammunition to support Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine. Following the meeting, Blinken actively made the rounds of the press, telling NBC News’ “Meet the Press with Chuck Todd”:
“We have information that gives us concern that they are considering providing lethal support to Russia in its aggression against Ukraine, and I made it clear (to Wang) that that would have serious consequences in our relationship, as well something President Biden has shared directly with President Xi on several occasions.”
Wang quickly shot back during a news conference in Beijing, asserting that he met Blinken at the request of the US. Wang added that China “will not be taking orders from US” over its relations with Russia. During the Munich Security Conference held earlier, Wang abusively described the US handing of the spy balloon incident as an “unimaginable, hysterical, and absurd act” that had violated international norms.
On February 20, Biden paid a surprise visit to Ukraine, speaking to President Volodymyr Zelensky during a joint news conference in Kyiv:
“Mr. President, it was very late at night in Washington and very early in the morning here in Kyiv. Russian planes were in the air and tanks were rolling across your border. You told me that you could hear explosions in the background. I remember it vividly. I asked you: ‘How can I be of help?’ And you said: ‘Gather the leaders of the world. Ask them to support Ukraine.’ You know, one year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. It’s astounding who stood up…Everybody—women, young children—just trying to do something…and the world stands with you…We built a coalition of nations, from the Atlantic to the Pacific: NATO in the Atlantic; Japan in the Pacific. I mean, across the world …nations stood up… to help Ukraine defend itself with unprecedented military, economic, and humanitarian support.”
Zelensky passionately responded: “You are visiting in the most difficult period for Ukraine. Ukraine will continue fighting for its own freedom and the freedom of the world, Mr. President.”
Generous US Assistance to Ukraine
Biden had this to say about the military and economic aid the US and its allies have extended to Ukraine: “Together, we’ve committed nearly 700 tanks and thousands of armored vehicles, 1000 artillery systems, more than two million rounds of artillery ammunition, more than 50 advanced launch rocket systems…The other half a billion dollars… that’s going to be coming your way. And that’s just the United States in this piece.”
The following day, Vladimir Putin delivered a 90-minute state of the union address to the Russian Federal Assembly. Wearing a bland facial expression, Putin declared that the Ukrainian war had been started by the West and asserted that Russia is doing everything possible to realize peace in Ukraine.
Presenting a unique historical view that the West has nurtured Nazi forces in order to annihilate Russia, Putin devoted a great deal of time to expressing his thanks and respect to Russian soldiers killed in action and their families. He then introduced a grand economic plan aimed at prompting further growth of the Russian economy, before ending with this appeal:
“(Every Russian) has a choice. Some may choose to live…in a seemingly attractive Western capital, a resort or some other comfortable place abroad… But it is time to see that in the West these people have always been and will always remain second class strangers… (but there is) another option: to stay with your motherland, to work for your compatriots, not only to open new businesses but also to change life around you in cities, towns and throughout your country.”
Putin’s remarks appear to reflect the reality that a horde of Russians said to number approximately a million—mostly talented intelligent young men and women—have deserted their motherland since the start of the war. Apparent at the root of Putin’s tirade was a twisted historical perspective together with a strong resentment and deep suspicion toward the US.
On February 22, Wang flew to Moscow and shook hands with Putin in a friendly atmosphere totally unimaginable from his encounter with Blinken four days earlier in Munich. Wang told Putin:
“The current international situation is complex and severe, but the China-Russia relationship has stood the test of the drastic changes in the world landscape and become mature and tenacious, standing as firm as Mount Tai. China is ready to work with Russia to maintain strategic resolve, deepen political mutual trust, strengthen strategic coordination, expand practical cooperation and defend the legitimate interests of both countries in playing a constructive role in promoting world peace and development.”
Putin asked Wang to convey his “sincere greetings” to Xi, noting that bilateral trade was “better than expected,” having reached $185 billion in 2022 with a goal of US$200 billion in 2024. Putin deferentially expressed his “warmest words of gratitude for this joint cooperation.”
The basic posture of both countries toward each other has revolved around an agreement reached between Xi and Putin on December 30, 2022 during a video summit. In a nutshell, it calls for stronger military ties between China and Russia.
Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China has refused to call the war as such, referring to it as “the Ukrainian crisis” instead. Turning a blind eye to Russia having invaded Ukraine, China has refused to criticize Russia. China’s posture toward the war was revealed on the one-year anniversary of the invasion on February 24 in a 12-point peace proposal announced by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The plan covers such points as “sovereign rights of all nations,” “abandoning the Cold War mentality,” and “stopping unilateral sanctions” along with “ceasing hostilities” and “resuming peace talks.”
What Japan Must Do Now
In sum, China is calling on Russia and Ukraine to make compromises and resume dialogue and negotiation. Nowhere in their proposal, do they condemn Russia’s outrage. Nor do the Chinese refer to the territorial integrity of Ukraine or Russia’s need to immediately withdraw its troops from the battlefields.
While welcoming the Chinese proposal up to a point as beneficial to “our countries and security in the world” and hinting at a willingness to meet with Xi, Zelensky diplomatically turned it down by noting that only parties to the war are qualified to propose peace between warring countries. Meanwhile, Biden took aim at Putin, who has praised the Chinese proposal, saying: “Putin is applauding it, so how could it be any good? I’m being deadly earnest.”
What will China’s next move be? The Chinese have been seriously concerned about the US plan to establish a semi-conductor supply network in tandem with Japan and the Netherlands in an effort to restrict exports of advanced chip-manufacturing equipment to China. China must by all means want to avoid powerful sanctions by the West, which would seriously undermine its economic plans. The Chinese obviously assume that Biden and his Democratic Party, with next year’s presidential election in view, are eager to get good results in bringing peace to Ukraine. China is maneuvering to take advantage of this “weakness” of the Democrats so as to secure a path to safeguarding its national interests. China’s posture to militarily support Russia ought to be viewed as a tactic to win concessions from the US on trade sanctions. The last thing any nation should do in dealing with a bullish China is to grant concessions or make compromises.
Quite clear is what Japan ought to do at this stage. In his meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi in Munich during the security conference, Wang warned Japan against decoupling from China and demanded that Japan pursue its own diplomacy independent of the US. Just as Biden said Japan stood up in the Pacific for Ukraine, so must we now stand up for ourselves. Prime Minster Fumio Kishida must steadily execute the policies laid out in the three security-related documents approved by the cabinet last December 13. It is also incumbent on Kishida to visit Ukraine as soon as possible to demonstrate in unequivocal terms that Japan will stand by Ukraine until it wins the ongoing war.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,038 in the March 2, 2023 issue of The Weekly Shincho)