Is this the end of Japanese neutrality?

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DUBAI: As the security environment surrounding Japan hardens, maintaining a favorable balance of power has become an increasingly delicate task for Tokyo, which faces challenges on three major strategic fronts: China, South Korea North and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Yet two developments in the space of just two months have challenged Japan’s neutrality and exposed its diplomatic vulnerabilities.

In the latest incident, Russia’s main security agency on Monday arrested a Japanese consul in Vladivostok, in the far east of the country, on suspicion of illegally obtaining information in exchange for money.

The diplomat, Tatsunori Motoki, was then ordered by the Russian Foreign Ministry to leave the country within 48 hours and an announcement was made that a senior official from the Japanese Embassy in Moscow had was summoned to protest his alleged improper acquisition of information.

Japanese diplomat Tatsunori Motoki was fired from Russia for espionage. (AFP)

“A Japanese diplomat was arrested red-handed as he received classified information, in exchange for money, about Russia’s cooperation with another country in the Asia-Pacific region,” the security service said. FSB in a statement quoted by Russian media.

On Tuesday, a Japanese government official said the consul had been released.

Nevertheless, on the same day, Takeo Mori, Deputy Foreign Minister of Japan, summoned Mikhail Galuzin, the Russian Ambassador, to the Foreign Ministry office in Tokyo to file a formal protest against the detention of the Japanese consul.

Separately, Hayashi Yoshimasa, the foreign minister, said detaining and interrogating a consul is a “clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations”, as well as a consular treaty between Japan and Russia.

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$40 billion – Amount sought by Japan’s Defense Ministry for the budget as the country faces its “toughest challenges” since World War II.

Hayashi said Russia’s action was “totally unacceptable” and claimed Motoki was taken away blindfolded and held before being subjected to heavy-handed questioning.

He denied the Russian allegation that Motoki had engaged in illegal activities.

Russia’s Federal Security Service said the Japanese consul had obtained non-public information about Russia’s cooperative ties with an unidentified Asia-Pacific country as well as the effects of Western sanctions on the economic situation in the Far East Russian by offering money.

The Russian agency also published images taken in secret of a person who appears to be the consul receiving documents in a restaurant.

Russia recently designated Japan as a hostile country in response to Tokyo’s cooperation with the United States and European countries to impose sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.


Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada (right) sign the Defense Exchange Memorandum of Understanding between Japan and Israel in Tokyo on August 30, 2022. (AFP )

The first diplomatic development that cast doubt on Japan’s neutrality was its decision to sign a defense agreement with Israel in August.

The agreement was part of an effort to strengthen defense cooperation between the two countries, particularly in the field of military equipment and technology. But it potentially diminishes Tokyo’s ability to remain impartial when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Japan has long been hailed as an even-handed broker of a future agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. In 2019, a joint Arab News Japan-YouGov survey found that 56% of Arabs view Japan as the most credible potential candidate to act as a peace broker in the Middle East.

During his trip to Tokyo, Benny Gantz, Israel’s Defense Minister, met with Hayashi, who was careful to reiterate his government’s support for a two-state solution to resolve the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Japanese analyst Koichiro Tanaka, a professor at Keio University in Tokyo, believes that the expansion of the Abraham Accords, the normalization agreements signed between Israel and several Arab states in 2020, relieved Japan of this mediating role. .

“Japan feels relieved of the pressure that existed trying to balance its Middle East policy with its energy security,” Tanaka told Arab News Japan.

Aware of the need to maintain allies in its own standoff with China, Japan’s main foreign policy goal has been “to appease Washington”, he said. With that comes the expectation of “making friends” with Israel.


Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada (R) during their bilateral defense meeting in Tokyo on August 30, 2022. (AFP)

“Japan’s role as mediator never materialized due to US reluctance and Israel’s rejection of such a role,” Tanaka said.

The Abraham Accords were the first public expressions of normalization between Arab states and Israel since 1994. When the accords were announced, Tomoyuki Yoshida, Japan’s former foreign press secretary, called them a “positive development.” which could “ease tensions and stabilize the region”. ”

He reiterated that Japan supports a “two-state solution” in which Israel and a future independent Palestinian state “would live side by side in peace and security.”


In this photo from December 25, 2017, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono (left) meets with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP file)

However, with Japan’s increasingly strained relations with China and North Korea, the country has expanded its military cooperation beyond its traditional ally, the United States, to other countries in the Asia region. – Pacific and Europe.

He is particularly concerned about Beijing’s military actions in the East and South China Seas. Israel has already traded weapons with China and is the second largest foreign arms supplier after Russia.

China has accumulated a vast arsenal of advanced military equipment and technology. The United States has firmly opposed Israel’s arms trade with China. However, Israel has largely ignored Washington’s objections.

Some observers suspect that Israel’s close trade relationship with China is the reason Japan has chosen to strengthen defense cooperation with Israel.

Japanese military strategists have sought ways to ease their defensive dependence on the United States, potentially viewing Israel as a source of weapons and technology to bolster Tokyo’s military might in the region.

But with the signing of the new defense agreement with Israel, is Tokyo still in a position to mediate between Israel and Palestine?

Waleed Siam, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Tokyo, told Arab News Japan that the Japanese government is “mainly supportive” of both sides.

“Japan has a long history with Israel, but I think Japan could always be part of neutrality by helping both sides achieve settlements,” he said.

Siam said the Palestinians, and the Arab world in general, have great respect for Japan, noting that Tokyo “has always supported the Palestinians to the highest degree, through many United Nations organizations.

“Japan is committed to helping the State of Palestine and has also always abided by the UN resolution, refusing to recognize East Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and has never recognized Israel’s illegal settlements. “


Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (2nd from left) and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida talk during their bilateral meeting at the Akasaka Palace State Guesthouse in Tokyo on September 28, 2022. (AFP )

Asked whether Japan should have first reassured the Palestinian side of its continued neutrality before concluding its security deal with Israel, Siam said Tokyo had the “right to do whatever it wants”.

He added: “Japan has nothing to guarantee, as it remains very firm in its belief with the international community and the UN resolution. He supports a two-state solution and the Palestinian right to independence.

“Even during the Trump era, when the former US president was pressuring everyone to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Japan stood strong at the UN and voted against it.”

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However, Siam believes that any country signing an agreement with Israel should also emphasize respect for international law and human rights.

“I call on Japan to use this kind of deep friendship with Israel to pressure Israelis to abide by international law,” Siam said. “If the international community does not stand united and pressure Israel for a two-state solution, there will never be peace.”

Israel has been the “biggest obstacle” to finalizing a major agro-industrial park and logistics initiative in Jericho, proposed by Japan, called the “Corridor for Peace”, Siam said.

Japan, he argues, could use its deep relationship with Israel to help finalize the project.

During the 11-day war in Gaza in May 2021, Japan insisted that all UN resolutions and international laws must be observed, reiterating its “clear, respectful and supportive” position in the conflict, said Siam.

Japan has long presented itself as the country most capable of brokering a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

In the final analysis, few can argue that building up its military capabilities and investing in defense technology is a step in the right direction on Japan’s part. But he clearly needs to be more diplomatic to pull them off.

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