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A view of the fires at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine on August 24, 2022. Photo: Handout via Reuters

Japan criticises Russia over nuclear arms, will use G7 summit to call for abolition

  • Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says Moscow must accept the blame for refusing to sign an update to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
  • Kishida’s push for global denuclearisation could be ‘too ambitious’ and could weaken him politically, analysts note
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has criticised Russia’s refusal to sign an update to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is expected to use next year’s G7 conference in Hiroshima to further promote his administration’s calls for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Analysts caution, however, that while such positions on both Russia and nuclear weapons are largely popular at home, the likelihood of other nations – including allies – willingly dismantling their atomic arsenals is negligible. As a result, Kishida must tread carefully and be aware that pushing forward with demands that the G7 then ignores could serve to weaken him politically.

Kishida’s bitter disappointment was clear on Saturday, when he said Moscow must accept the blame for the outcome document at the NPT review conference remaining unsigned after a month of talks.

US blasts ‘cynical’ Russia for blocking UN nuclear declaration

“It is extremely regrettable that no consensus was reached due to the opposition of one country, which is Russia,” Kishida said via video link from his official residence, where he is quarantined after contracting the coronavirus.

The Russian government refused to sign the treaty on the grounds that it included references to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which Russia captured in the early stages of the invasion of Ukraine in February. The international community and atomic energy experts have expressed deep concern that ongoing fighting around the plant could lead to a nuclear disaster.

Undeterred, Kishida said progress at the New York meeting was “proof that many countries are of the view that maintaining and strengthening the NPT regime is beneficial for the whole of the international community”.

He emphasised that he was not ready to give up on a policy that, as a politician representing a constituency in Hiroshima – the target of the first atomic bomb – was close to his heart.

“I want to boost momentum in the international community towards the realisation of a world without nuclear weapons,” he said, indicating that the issue would be on the table at the G7 summit next year.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says he wants to “boost momentum in the international community towards the realisation of a world without nuclear weapons”. Photo: Pool via AP
“Kishida is performing a difficult balancing act between the hawks in his own party, on whom he relies for support, and his constituents in Hiroshima, who will undoubtedly have been reminding him of his roots,” said Go Ito, a professor of international relations at Tokyo’s Meiji University, adding that Kishida must also take into account the United States and staying in its good graces.
The prime minister’s firm stance on Russia and China was “a popular position at home, but only as long as Japan’s defence is based on conventional weapons rather than nuclear weapons”, Ito said.

“While I do expect him to continue to call for denuclearisation internationally, I fear that is a target that is just too ambitious to be realised,” Ito added.

Japan marks 77 years since atomic bombing of Nagasaki amid nuclear war fears

Stephen Nagy, an associate professor of international relations at Tokyo’s International Christian University, said convincing other governments to do away with arguably their most potent weapons was unlikely to gain traction.

“Kishida has effectively staked his political identity on being from Hiroshima and remaining firm that Japan will never have nuclear weapons,” he said. “The NPT is a big deal for Japan and at the last Shangri-La Dialogue he put non-proliferation and denuclearisation as one of his policy pillars, meaning it is now part of his ‘brand’.

“But this also means he needs to move forward delicately,” he added.

“The G-7 meeting will give him an opportunity to speak to his agenda, but whether he will be able to gain any traction is a different story,” Nagy pointed out.

“Kishida must be careful that he does not put on the table at the G7 something that is immediately a non-starter. It’s fine for him to talk about denuclearisation and non-proliferation, but it could damage him when it gets no buy-in.”