Brussels and Tokyo vow stronger cooperation on Russian sanctions

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (R), and EU Council President Charles Michel (L), meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo May 12, 2022.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (R), and EU Council President Charles Michel (L), meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo May 12, 2022. Copyright Yoshikazu Tsuno/Pool Photo via AP
Copyright Yoshikazu Tsuno/Pool Photo via AP
By Pedro Sacadura
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The EU's Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel were in Japan on Thursday to discuss efforts to counter Russia's aggression on Ukraine and its impact in the Indo-pacific region.


The European Union and Japan on Thursday vowed stronger unity on sanctions against Russia and joint action on the impact Moscow's aggression on Ukraine is having in the Indo-Pacific.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described Russia as "the most direct threat to the world order" because of its "barbaric war" in Ukraine and voiced concerns about China's role and "their call for new and very much arbitrary international relations".

She made the remarks in Tokyo where she took part in the 28th EU-Japan Summit alongside European Council President Charles Michel and Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida.

It was their first in-person EU-Japan summit since last year's virtual meeting, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a press conference following the meeting, the trio sent a message of a stronger and united front against Russia, delivering pledges of further cooperation to "apply sanctions" and counter the country's aggression.

Just like the EU, Japan moved swiftly to impose tough sanctions on Russia, targeting banks, energy and individuals, including Russian President Vladimir Putin himself.

Following the meeting, the like-minded partners — the EU officials even defining Japan as one of the bloc's closest allies — committed to bring to justice those responsible for "war crimes" during the offensive in Ukraine as well.

Kishida, meanwhile, described Russia's invasion as "absolutely impermissible", adding it "is not just a matter for Europe, but it shakes the core of the international order including Asia."

A message echoed by the EU Council chief Michel, who added "Russia's war against Ukraine has shown that deeper cooperation [between the EU and Japan] is not a luxury, it's a vital necessity."

Seeking a "free and open" Indo-Pacific

China's so-called "no limits" friendship with Russia worries both the EU and Japan, just like Beijing's influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

With that in mind, the allies gathered in Tokyo vowed to cooperate for a "free and open Indo-Pacific", aiming to challenge China's brewing might and muscle-flexing in the strategic area.

"The Indo-Pacific is a thriving region. It is also a theater of tensions. Take the situation in the East and South China Sea and the constant threat of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. As we discussed with the Prime Minister, Kishida Fumio, the European Union wants to take a more active role in the Indo-Pacific. We want to take more responsibility in a region that is so vital to our prosperity," von der Leyen said, whilst hinting towards a more assertive approach with the support of Japan.

The Japanese Prime Minister, on the other hand, added both partners will discuss "any attempts to change the status quo or of economic coercion" in the region in order to promote a "free and open Indo-Pacific."

This summit was an opportunity for the EU to court Japan as a key ally in Asia, with announced plans from both sides to explore "cooperation opportunities, notably on transport, energy, digital and supply chains, in the Indo-Pacific" and other regions, including "the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries, and Africa."

"We will examine possibilities in Central Asia as a potential zone for further cooperation," the final statement of the meeting added.

For the EU, it is a chance to challenge China's "Belt and Road Initiative" with its "Global Gateway" plan to promote development in the region.

Elli-Katharine Pohlkamp, visiting fellow at the European Council of Foreign Relations, told Euronews: "definitely it's a sort of a competitor framework. [There are] also already the whole Indo-Pacific strategies and the connectivity and digital approaches that the West and its allies in the region have introduced [that] are certainly, not very welcomed by China."

"The core target of the Democratic Alliance is to uphold the rules-based international order, to secure the status quo, to protect the status quo, and so that no territory is occupied by force. And these are all measures of the Global Gateway, the infrastructure bid and security terms of defence and security. These are all measures to keep the free and open Indo-Pacific and the rules-based order in line," she added.


Digital partnership

At the summit, the two sides also concluded a Digital Partnership labelled as a "milestone" and the first that the EU signs with a partner country.

Both the EU and Japan recognised the importance of free and secure flows of data.

In practical terms, the partnership provides opportunities to develop joint work on digital technologies in areas such as secure 5G, for example, safe and ethical applications of artificial intelligence, or the resilience of global supply chains in the semiconductor industry.

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