Russia ‘most direct threat to world order’, von der Leyen says at EU-Japan summit

(L-R) European Council President Charles Michel, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announce their joint statement at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, 12 May 2022. The visit is the first to Japan for the two EU chiefs since they took office in 2019. [EPA-EFE/YOSHIKAZU TSUNO / POOL]

Russia is the “most direct threat” to the international order because of its invasion of Ukraine, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Thursday (12 May) in Tokyo.

Russia “is today the most direct threat to the world order with the barbaric war against Ukraine, and its worrying pact with China”, she said after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida along with European Council President Charles Michel.

The top EU officials are in Tokyo for an annual EU-Japan summit that comes with much of the international community rallying to pressure Moscow over the Ukraine war, with concern also growing about China’s role.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not just a matter for Europe, but it shakes the core of the international order including Asia. This must not be tolerated,” said Kishida, whose government has joined tough sanctions on Moscow, including on energy.

Beijing’s increasingly muscular stance in Asia was also on the agenda, with the EU looking to take a more high-profile role in confronting China.

“Our cooperation in Ukraine is critical in Europe, but it’s also important in the Indo-Pacific and we also want to deepen our consultation on a more assertive China,” said Michel.

“We believe that China must stand up to defend the multilateral system that it has benefitted from in developing its country.”

Von der Leyen said the EU and Japan were stepping up cooperation including with the launch of a digital partnership, a first for Europe, which would focus on competitiveness and security in the field.

She said the two sides would also work to “diversify and strengthen our supply chains”.

“This is important because there are materials and technologies that have become essential to our economy and everyday lives, like semiconductors for example,” von der Leyen said.

“We must be able to count on trustworthy supply chains.”

Japan’s relations with Russia have seriously deteriorated after Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February. Tokyo was quick to impose sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and other political and business leaders for the invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s foreign ministry on 4 May announced sanctions against 63 Japanese officials, journalists and professors for engaging in “unacceptable rhetoric” against Moscow.

The list includes Kishida, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi, among other officials.

The sanctions bar the targeted individuals from entering Russia indefinitely, the ministry said.

Kishida said he could not accept Moscow’s decision and that Russia bore full responsibility for driving bilateral ties to where they are now.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a clear violation of international law. Killing a large number of innocent civilians constitutes a grave violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime,” Kishida said.

Japan reacted angrily on 22 March after Russia withdrew from peace treaty talks with Japan and froze joint economic projects related to the disputed Kuril islands because of Japanese sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia and Japan have not formally ended World War Two hostilities because of their standoff over islands, seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War Two, just off Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido.

The islands are known in Russia as the Kurils and in Japan as the Northern Territories.

In 2020, Russia’s constitution was amended to bar handing over territory to a foreign power.

(With additional reporting by by Georgi Gotev)

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