“We must send a clear message to Putin,” Russia will pay the price for Ukraine war: Japan ...

“We must send a clear message to Putin,” Russia will pay the price for Ukraine war: Japan Envoy to India 

On eve of G-7 Summit, Japanese Ambassador stresses on Ukraine focus, also aligning G7-G20 agendas with “key partner” India.

The war in Ukraine will be the focus of the G-7 for the second time, as Japanese Prime Minister seeks to uphold the international rules-based order and ensure that Russia “pays a price” for its actions, says Japanese Ambassador to India Hiroshi Suzuki in an interview to The Hindu, where he also discussed the impact of U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to cut short his visit to the Pacific region, as well as Japanese PM Fumio Kishida’s new Indo-Pacific policy, and his plans to coordinate closely with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to align the G-7 and G-20 agendas.

 Q: What does Japan hope for from this G-7, particularly given it will be held in Hiroshima?

 PM Kishida sees a number of challenges he wants to address as chair of the G-7 summit. But he wants to put the highest priority on two cross cutting issues and one specific agenda relating to Hiroshima. First is the importance of upholding the rule of law. And as we all know, Russian invasion of Ukraine is destroying the core fundamental principles of international society enshrined in the UN Charter, such as sovereignty, territorial integrity and the rule of law. So Prime Minister Kishida wants to send a strong message from Hiroshima that unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force must not be allowed anywhere in the world. That is to say, if Russia is allowed to go, without any paying any price, the other countries may be tempted to the same. We stand at a critical juncture to send a clear message that we should never allow the world to slide back to Dark Ages of law of the jungle. 

Secondly PM Kishida wants to highlight is engagement with the international community, in particular, with the Global South. Because while the war in Ukraine is going on, the entire world is faced with real critical challenges. Challenges like food crisis, energy security, climate change, sustainable development, and World Health, to name just a few. So, when the leaders meet, they must address these critical challenges. And to do that, we need to engage, in particular with the Global South. That’s why Prime Minister Kishida visited Delhi in March to have a face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Modi because Prime Minister Modi represents the voices of the global south. PM Kishida hopes to align the G7 agenda with G20 agenda as much as possible. PM Kishida hopes that Prime Minister Modi in Hiroshima will be able to share his vision and agenda for the September G20 summit with the participating heads of states and government of G7 and invited countries. 

The third important issue is related to Hiroshima: that is nuclear disarmament and Non-Proliferation. Because this is very close to Prime Minister Kishida’s heart. He comes from Hiroshima. His constituency is in Hiroshima. In Hiroshima, if you visit Peace Museum, you can see first-hand what kind of indescribable ordeals people in Hiroshima had because of nuclear bombs. Prime Minister Kishida wants to send a clear message that the human race must continue with ongoing record of 77 years of non-use of nuclear weapons. And this is extremely important in the light of Putin’s rhetoric, repeated threats to use nuclear weapons. These are the three key issues among many challenges that PM Kishida wants to highlight.

 You’ve mentioned Russia quite a few times. However, this is not an area where India and the G7 countries see eye to eye. Last year, India did not join statements that criticised Russia at the G-7 meet in Germany. What are your hopes from India in this particular summit on this issue?  

 Japan fully understands where India stands and Japan knows all India’s reasons. Having said that, India is a key partner for Japan’s G7 presidency, because Prime Minister Kishida wants to achieve two things. One is, as I said in the outset, the importance of upholding the rules-based international order and at the same time to engage, in particular with the global south, to address real key issues. Prime Minister Modi is a key partner because even though India has not criticised Russia in public, by naming Russia, but at the same time, India always said it supports the fundamental principles like sovereignty, territorial integrity, rule of law, peaceful settlement of conflicts, you know, those are the fundamental rules enshrined in the UN Charter. Prime Minister Kishida’s whole point is, we should never allow the entire world to slide back to the Dark Ages, laws of the jungle, where big countries can bully neighbouring smaller countries, and, you know, carry on just as if business as usual, we must send a clear message to Putin that, you know, you cannot do anything like this, or else, you’re going to have to pay the price, and at the same time, address real issues. 

And this, you know, this is very challenging. But if G7 and G20 cannot deliver on those key challenges, who else can? I mean at the UN General Assembly, every September, with due respect to the UN system, so many leaders, talk, talk and talk. We all know what the challenges are, we also well know what is the prescription. What we need is action. If united, G20 has the capacity and resources to address these key challenges — food prices, energy security, climate change, sustainable development, and health. These are real issues. But if we continue to get divided… Russian invasion into Ukraine has deepened the division between what’s broadly defined as the Western alliance and authoritarian states and the big global South, but we need more unity among the G20. 

Prime Minister Kishida hopes that what we achieve in Hiroshima for the G7 will be aligned with Prime Minister Modi’s agenda for the September G20 summit, because G20 is the world’s premier Economic Forum. So, taken together as a whole the aggregate capacity and resources among the G20 is much larger than the G7. Generating as much unity among the G20s is the key to address these issues and Prime Minister Kishida wants to have G7 align with Prime Minister Modi’s vision for G20.

 One of the areas where India which is clearly going to need help is to try and forge a joint communique, which Russia and China objected to in the last two Ministerial rounds. How do you see the chance of issuing a joint statement at the end of the G-20 summit in September?

 I was Japan’s G7 and  G-20 Country Sherpa until half a year ago. I can say this from my own experience. The Sherpas negotiate the communique until the last moment. I know for sure that India’s G 20 Sherpa [Amitabh Kant] is an extremely capable person. And I am sure that he will have a wonderful chairmanship among the G20 Sherpas. Of course, he will have difficult moments, but Japan stands ready to help Indian presidency as much as possible. So that the Delhi G- 20 Summit will be a great success.

 President Biden has cancelled his visit to Australia and to Papua New Guinea at the last moment, giving perhaps the sense that G7 has been given a higher priority to the Quad. How do you think Mr. Biden’s decision not to travel on to Australia is going to affect things in Hiroshima?

 Well, the Australian presidency is working very hard to convene a shortened version of Quad in Hiroshima now. But it’s very much in the making as we speak, because they had everything planned out in Sydney, and now the sudden change has been caused by the U.S. Congress. But you know, we cannot complain, because U.S. Congress is U.S. Congress. Now that said, really, there is no comparison [between G7 and Quad], they are completely different [forums]. It was sheer timing and good fortune that President Biden will be able to attend in Hiroshima, but he cannot complete the rest of his trip. So that’s the political reality. We have to live with it.

 And does it also mean that Russia that is the focus of discussions at the G7 is seen today as more of challenge than China?

 No, no. As I said PM Kishida wants to say two clear messages. One is to the world that Russia cannot go on with the invasion into Ukraine without paying any price. And, you know, his main message is, we must uphold the rule of law, and at the same time he wants to the real challenges in the world. We need more unity, not just among G7, but among the G20. With the Global South, we need more unity. Because G20 is our best hope of amassing the kind of capabilities and resources that they have otherwise real issues, like food prices, energy security, climate change, World Health Sustainable development, will be left unaddressed.

 Japan invited the outreach members to the Finance Ministers meeting last month. What in particular, are you hoping economically that the G7 will actually pass in terms of agreements and joint statements?

 The G7 Finance Ministers and central Governor’s meeting discussed a number of key challenges, they discussed assistance to Ukraine, but by and large that meeting was in preparation for the Hiroshima Summit. Sri Lanka’s debt issue is a key challenge, where debt trap is a case in point. We are glad that India has taken the driver’s seat together with Japan, and France to spearhead major creditor nations based on the fundamental principles of equal treatment for major stakeholders…what is called the comparability principle. This must succeed, because if countries like Sri Lanka are allowed to be swamped in a debt trap, there’ll be many other cases. If we succeed, then it means that even those potential countries who are on the verge of falling into the trap can be saved by honouring the basic principles of comparability treatment, that is fairness in treatment for all the major stakeholders, fair and transparent lending, as opposed to opaque and unfair debt system and we want to discuss this. 

 Significantly, Sri Lanka actually cancelled the India-Japan joint bid for a port terminal project in Colombo. As Japan looks at its new Indo Pacific policy, that Prime Minister Kishida launched in Delhi, what are some of the lessons learned about working with countries in the region?

 PM Kishida, in his policy address, laid out his new plans for the free and Indo Pacific, originally launched by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Nigeria, and was keen that African countries be included in the free and open Indo Pacific. Many people have the impression that Indo-Pacific policy refers to maritime countries or littoral states, but Japan wants to give strategic depth outreach to landlocked countries, for example, India’s northeast — where Japan has been doing so much, and also in Bangladesh where Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is implementing so many projects to build roads and bridges. So far these have been independent of each other. Now, what Prime Minister wants to do is to connect the Matarbari deep sea port that JICA is developing  in Bangladesh, that will become operational in 2027 and huge container ships can come in. So, if products made in India, can be transported through the roads built by JICA through Bangladesh to Matarbari, then you can export to anywhere in the world, and this deep seaport can be a game changer. We have an example in  the Mekong Delta. There is a corridor called Southern Economic Corridor from Bangkok, through Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh city which took decades to build. In 2000, there were no Japanese companies investing in Phnom Penh but the corridor became a game changer, and you see the results today. It’s not just connectivity through the southern economic corridor, but an industrial value chain emanating from Bangkok to Phnom Penh and finally reaching to HCM city.  Prime Minister Kishida’s vision is to create a similar industrial value chain leveraging the Matarbari deep seaport and connecting Bangladesh and India’s northeast and bring bringing in new investments. So that new industries will emerge, new employment opportunities will be created. 

 Significantly, you are not suggesting India-Japan joint projects, but complimentary ones…

 Yes, we want to build complementary connectivity. There are some parts that we need to ask the Bangladesh government to do and also the Indian government because obviously at the border, you have to cross the border and complete immigration, customs formalities. So, this should be a cooperation among Japan India and Bangladesh, all the three partners should be on the same page. As soon as Matarbari deep seaport becomes operational, I want real change to take place. Last month, I was in Agartala for an important seminar that brought together senior Ministers from India and Bangladesh and we discussed this.

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