Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is under pressure to join other leading democracies in imposing sanctions against the Chinese Communist Party for human rights abuses. Japanese Prime Minister Kan is about to hold his first face-to-face summit with U.S. President Joe Biden.
Continued media coverage of serious human rights abuses against Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang province prompted several Western countries to sanction Communist Party officials. The Chinese Communist Party denies the allegations against it, calling them politically motivated lies, and on Saturday (March 27) announced countermeasures against the United States and Canada and their officials. Earlier, the Communist Party imposed sanctions on the United Kingdom and the European Union.
China has long maintained its position as Japan’s largest trading partner. Financial media Bloomberg reported Monday (March 29) that Japan has long been reluctant to impose economic penalties on its biggest trading partner, but some in Kan’s ruling party have called on him to take a tougher line, especially with the Group of 7 (G7) summit coming up in June in Britain.
Bloomberg quoted Gen Nakatani, a former Japanese defense minister, as saying that “Japan is the only country in the G7 that is not involved in sanctions.” Gen Nakatani is co-chairman of a cross-party group of lawmakers on China Policy in The Japanese House of Representatives. He said, “It is shameful that Japan is seen as a country that pretends to be blind to what is happening.”
Kan will be the first foreign leader to visit President Biden at the White House, and media reports suggest that a U.S.-Japan summit could take place as soon as April 9.
Japanese officials made clear earlier that Kan wants to meet face-to-face with Biden as soon as possible to strengthen the important U.S.-Japan alliance. With concerns about China growing, the U.S., for its part, has also attached great importance to its relationship with Japan, the first country Secretary of State Blinken has visited since taking office.
The G-7 meeting in June, to which Asian democracies will be invited, will have as part of its agenda how to deal with authoritarian states such as the Chinese Communist Party.
Analysts point out that Japan, like South Korea, is deeply intertwined with China economically and heavily dependent on the U.S. for military defense, and that the Chinese Communist Party is one of the main threats that Japan and South Korea have to deal with.
Japan and China have a dispute over sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands (known in China as the Diaoyu Islands). Tensions in the waters around the Diaoyu Islands have been exacerbated by the recent implementation of the Chinese Communist Party’s maritime police law. The maritime police law provides for the use of weapons by Chinese maritime police vessels if vessels acting in violation of the law in waters that China determines to be under its jurisdiction do not obey orders to stop and submit to inspection.
The Biden Administration signaled a renewed focus on human rights issues in its foreign policy. Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union passed their own versions of the Magnitsky Act. The Act allows governments to impose sanctions on entities and individuals who violate human rights, including visa revocation and asset freezing. The U.S. Magnitsky Act was signed into law by then-President Barack Obama in 2016.
Japan has no such law. Gen Nakatani and other lawmakers, including Ms. Shiori Yamao of the main opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party, want similar legislation, or at least a resolution with the same effect.
In recent days, Western brands such as H&M have been hit by a net boycott in China, and Japanese businesses have been caught in the crossfire. MUJI Furniture and others reportedly issued statements expressing “deep concern” over reports of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a March 25 press conference, “Have the Japanese people concerned forgotten that they claim they care about human rights? Japan’s war of aggression against China resulted in more than 35 million Chinese casualties.” She added that attacking China “is not in the interest of Japan.
Analysts say relations between the Japanese government and China are often strained by territorial disputes and disagreements over historical issues, but the Japanese government usually avoids head-on clashes that could damage economic ties between the two countries.