Russia and Japan historically were enemies but in recent decades moved to being ‘frenemies’ given improved relations but also the ongoing simmering standoff regarding ownership of the Kuril chain of islands just north of Japan. The last two years have seen relations get tense once again due to Russia’s Ukraine operations, and Tokyo’s growing defense cooperation with the United States, which has evoked Beijing’s wrath as well.
This is especially so in light of last week’s announcement by the Japanese government saying it is preparing to ship Patriot anti-air missile defense systems to assist Ukraine. It’s a plan the Biden administration has sought and considers a major diplomatic ‘victory’.
Japan just announced a significant change to its arms export rules in order to make this happen, something the White House has welcomed at a moment Kiev is running low on ammo and advanced arms. It’s also another big move signaling that Japan is abandoning its historic post-WWII neutrality and pacifism.
A headline last week in Nikkei Asia underscored that the planned Patriot transfer has ‘stunned’ regional watchers and analysts, given the US administration has long warned that China is the top ‘pacing threat’ to America globally:
Many have questioned the rationale of taking weapons out of the Indo-Pacific for a battle in Europe when the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has said all along that China is the pacing threat.
The transfer of Patriots was a request from the U.S. side. This suggests that the Biden administration has concluded that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is not imminent. While many in Washington agree to that assessment, some oppose shifting attention away from the Indo-Pacific.
The government of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida “has made a fundamental error in going along with the Biden administration’s prioritization of Europe,” said Elbridge Colby, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development.
But doing Washington’s bidding is precisely what Tokyo is up to, and public statements were clear on this point:
Tokyo previously only allowed for components of licensed equipment to be sent from Japan to the nation where the manufacturing license originated. But under the new rules it can ship finished goods too.
Shortly after the government announced this change on Friday, the foreign ministry said it would ship Patriot missiles to the US to “further strengthen the Japan-US alliance”.
It added that the missiles could only be sent to the US, and would require Japan’s approval to be sent to a third country. Japan still bans the export of weapons to countries at war.
This could mean that Japan-made Patriot missiles may replenish the US’ stockpile, while Washington sends US-made ones to Ukraine.
Hence while the missiles may not directly go to Ukraine, it’s certainly with an eye toward increasing supplies transferred there, and thus will indirectly benefit Ukrainian militarily.
Biden is jeopardizing the security of longstanding U.S. allies with his optional proxy war in Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/zrmVxBvGuh
— David Sacks (@DavidSacks) December 26, 2023
Predictably, Moscow has blasted the move and warned Tokyo it faces “grave consequences”. Kremlin spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a Wednesday briefing, “The Japanese side loses control over the weapons with which Washington can now do whatever it wants.” She added: “It cannot be ruled out that under an already tested scheme Patriot missiles will end up in Ukraine.”
She explained that such a scenario will be “interpreted as unambigously hostile actions against Russia and will lead to grave consequences for Japan in the context of bilateral relations.”
Wed, 12/27/2023 – 21:50