Japan pushes new diplomatic profile

Japan pushes new diplomatic profile

Teenage girls sporting Japanese fashion pose for a group photo at the Japan Expo Thailand 2022 at CentralWorld in Bangkok early this year. Thai-Japan diplomatic ties have been key since the 1970s when Japanese investment was a major driver of the Thai economy. (Photo: Apichit Jinakul)

During Golden Week, around the first week of May, Japanese politicians will usually spend time at home with their constituencies and families. Not the prime minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida, however. He knows full well that as the world’s third-largest economy, Japan’s wider diplomatic and security profile in the era of great disruption with the Russia-Ukraine war must be underlined. No time to waste.

His five-nation tour will take him to the UK, Italy, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. During his visit to Bangkok from May 1-2, he has two main objectives: to highlight the importance of Thai-Japan relations and to rally support for Ukraine. Mr Kishida, who was a foreign minister in the Abe administration, understands the dynamic regional and international diplomacy very well. After all, he was credited for strengthening Thai-Japan relations during the most difficult time after the 2014 coup. He is a strong supporter of rules-based international order, which has benefitted Japan throughout the seven decades since World War II.

Thai-Japanese ties have been one of the most important bilateral relations since the 1970s when Japan’s investment was a key driver of the country’s economic development. Japan’s investment, financial aid and technical know-how continue to be core elements in promoting the future greener economic development under the so-called bio-circular-green model.

To ensure the continuity and progress of policy implementation, a new five-year strategic agreement between the two countries has been completed and should be signed before summer. It will lay a solid groundwork for future Thai-Japan relations, which will be more sustainable and greener, and people-friendly. Thailand will continue to urge Japanese investors to put their money in the country. The special Eastern Economic Corridor is open to international investors.

Top of the agenda will be cooperation in the post-Covid 19 era. Over the past two years, both countries have cooperated closely, with Japan providing substantial medical assistance and vaccines. Tokyo donated 2.05 million doses and also provided US$20 million (680 million baht) of cold-chain supply mechanisms for vaccines. On this visit, Japan is expected to provide financial assistance to support Thai SMEs and vulnerable groups suffering from the negative impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic as well those who work in the health and medical sectors.

Furthermore, as far as Japanese businessmen are concerned, they need travel restrictions lifted so that they can travel and supervise their workers and factories. The good news is that country is dropping the requirement for a Covid test after five days inside the country as well as other restrictions after May 1.

As part of Thai-Japan security cooperation, both countries will also agree to strengthen their security cooperation through the transfer of defence equipment and technology. Most importantly, both sides will try to identify areas of cooperation in the future under their mutual Indo-Pacific framework.

Beyond the bilateral issues, Japan would like to rally support for Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has greatly impacted Japan’s international standing. The Japanese public also feels strongly about any unprovoked use of force. As such, Japan’s attitude toward the current crisis in Ukraine has been rather unusual. Tokyo has joined the West in condemning and boycotting Russia. It is quite unprecedented to see Japan take such a strong stand. Indeed, as the country was at the receiving end of atomic blasts at the end of World War II, Japan is concerned about any recurrence of the use of nuclear weapons.

Asean members have different views regarding the situation in Ukraine. Among the ten, only one member, Singapore, decided to impose economic sanctions against Russia. Others have not yet done so. Cambodia, Indonesia, and Thailand have said that as hosts of major summits, they will invite Russia to attend scheduled summits in their capitals in November.

As for the Ukraine crisis, both Thailand and Japan are on the same page as they will not accept any infringements upon sovereignty and territorial integrity by threats or use of force. Both leaders might call for a peaceful settlement of this conflict in accordance with international law.

Then, they would confirm they would jointly make efforts to reach a peaceful settlement of the situation through both the immediate cessation of the use of force and the dialogue, as well as to mitigate the impact on the global economy that has been disrupted.

Like Japan, Thailand is a strong supporter of more humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The Asean statement on April 8 made clear the grouping’s stand on the Russia-Ukraine war. Thailand has continued to call for dialogue and a ceasefire so that humanitarian aid can get through to the most affected areas.

Thailand and Japan will cooperate in humanitarian assistance in order to alleviate the consequences of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in various ways including collaboration with countries in the region.

Thailand’s position resonates well with the current crisis inside our Western neighbour, Myanmar, which has been suffering politically, economically and socially due to sanctions after the Feb 1 coup. Japan unwaveringly supports Asean’s five-point consensus. Its main international non-government organisation, the Nippon Foundation, has been active in providing humanitarian aid, especially vaccines, to Myanmar’s people and minorities living along the Thai-Myanmar border.

As a coordinating country of Asean-Japan relations, Thailand wants to ascertain that next year’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic ties is meaningful and fruitful. Japan is considered the grouping’s oldest dialogue partner, which began in 1973 when Japan was fully engaged with Asean with “heart-to-heart” diplomacy. It would not be surprising if Japan were to apply to become a comprehensive strategic partner next year when their leaders are scheduled to meet in Japan.

In November, if everything goes as planned, Mr Kishida will attend all the summits hosted by Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand. As such, his earlier visits to these countries provided good opportunities to fine-tune their common positions, especially on sensitive security issues. This trip to the UK, Italy and three key Asean members continues to underscore the prominent role played by Japan and its continued influence in regional and international affairs.