TOKYO (AP) — Japan and the European Union on Thursday agreed to step up their sanctions against Russia as leaders from the two sides raised concerns about the war’s impact in the Indo-Pacific, where they seek to strengthen their partnership and increase engagement amid China's growing assertiveness.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who held talks in Tokyo with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, told a joint news conference that Japan supports tough sanctions against Russia and ample support for Ukraine because the war “shakes the foundation of the world order not only in Europe but also in Asia.”
“Security in Europe and in the Indo-Pacific are inseparable,” Kishida said.
The EU leaders said they want to take a greater role and responsibility in the region and agreed to bolster cooperation in a range of areas including digital transformation, renewable energy and climate.
“The Indo-Pacific is a thriving region. It is also a theater of tensions. Take the situation in the East and South China seas or the constant threat of (North Korea),” von der Leyen said at the news conference, referring to rising tensions over Beijing’s increasingly assertive maritime actions and Pyongyang's missile and nuclear threats.
“We want to take more responsibility in a region that is so vital to our prosperity,” she said.
Von der Leyen added that Russia’s “barbaric war” against Ukraine has raised concerns about China’s growing influence and ambitions.
Michel said cooperation on Ukraine is critical in Europe and also important in the Indo-Pacific.
“We believe that China must stand up to defend the multilateral system that it benefited from in developing its country," he said, noting the EU wants to “deepen our cooperation on a more assertive China.”
Japanese Foreign Ministry officials said the EU's move reflects a major shift away from China amid growing concerns over Beijing’s human rights issues and other problems in the region.
Japan quickly joined other countries in imposing sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. There is growing fear in Tokyo that the war may embolden China to take more assertive military actions in the East and South China seas, where Beijing’s vast territorial claims have overlapped with those of its smaller neighbors.
Japan has frozen the assets of Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, and government officials and billionaires close to him as well as key banks. It has also restricted trade and announced a decision to phase out imports of Russian coal and crude oil.
Von der Leyen will leave Japan after a working lunch on Thursday, while Michel will travel to Hiroshima, where he is set to pay tribute Friday to atomic bombing victims.