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Japan moves to accept Ukrainian refugees and rebuild its military as countries continue to respond to the Russian invasion of Ukraine

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Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

Japan announced this past week that it would accept Ukrainian refugees displaced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and will send bulletproof vests to Kiev.

Historically, Japan has resisted taking in refugees and has maintained a pacifistic approach to foreign conflicts since the end of World War II. The Washington Post reported that Japan decided to break with its more isolationist tendencies “without ‘gaiastu,’ or foreign pressure.”

It is believed that Russia’s recent attack on a Ukrainian power plant inspired the Japanese government to accelerate debates over its pre-existing defense and national security policies. The Japanese government has been growing wary of China’s rising presence on the global stage and has been reevaluating its approach to stave off the growing territorial threat that China poses.

Akihisa Shiozaki, a member of Japan’s governing Liberal Democratic Party, indicated that the Japanese government is growing increasingly skeptical of the United Nations’ ability to reign in the aggression of its member states.

He said, “It’s a big awakening that there are limitations to what the U.N. can do, limitations to what diplomacy can do, limitations to what economic sanctions can do.”

Regarding the shift in Japan’s policy approach, Shiozaki said, “It’s not about rewriting the boundaries of what Japan can do, but filling in the details of what we may not fully anticipate, or may have overlooked in our preparation.”

He added that Japan’s willingness to accept Ukrainian refugees enables the Japanese government to begin preparing for future refugee crises that may arise.

He said, “In considering future crisis scenarios in East Asia, including the Taiwan contingency, it is necessary to build and maintain the capacity to respond to refugees in times of emergency, even in peacetime.”

Japanese leaders are looking to their former ally, Germany, to see how a pacifist nation might reinstitute defensive measures.

Yoichi Funabashi, the chairman of the Asia Pacific Initiative think tank, said, “Japan is watching now, very much attentively, how Germany is responding to the Ukraine crisis and how fundamentally Germany is transforming to adapt itself to new reality.”

Within a week of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Germany would vastly increase its spending on defense.

And, it appears, that Japan is following suit.

At a recent press conference, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, “Japan needs to implement a fundamental upgrade of its defense capabilities.”

Shinzo Abe, the former Prime Minister of Japan, said in a recent T.V. interview that the ongoing reconfiguring the of the global power structure should be cause for the Japanese government to reconsider its approach to self-defense.

Abe said, “We should firmly consider various options when we talk about how we can protect Japan and the lives of its people in this reality.”

He also suggested that Japan should offer to hold nuclear weapons on behalf of the United States as a preemptive defensive measure.

Abe said, “In NATO, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy take part in nuclear sharing, hosting American nuclear weapons. We need to understand how security is maintained around the world and not consider it taboo to have an open discussion.”

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