Japan seems ready to align itself with major countries around the globe in response to Russia’s aggressive war with Ukraine.
Over time, Japan is going to phase out Russian oil imports in an agreement with other Group of Seven (G7) nations. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made an announcement about this plan on Monday.
Leaders from the G7 nations met on Sunday through an online meeting and decided to move in what they described as a “timely and orderly fashion” by putting pressure on President Vladimir Putin.
This is a major move by Japan because of their limited resources and heavy dependence on Russian fuel.
Prime Minister Kishida told the press, “For a country heavily dependent on energy imports, it’s a very difficult decision. But G7 coordination is most important at a time like now. As for the timing of the reduction or stoppage of (Russian) oil imports, we will consider it while gauging the actual situation. We will take our time to take steps towards a phase-out.”
The move by Japan seems to already have started. There have not been any ships being loaded with Russian oil for Japan since mid-April, and the total number of barrels sent from Russia to Japan in April was down 33 percent from a year ago.
The war in Ukraine is creating a crisis for many nations across the globe. One of the fronts is certainly Japan due to its energy dependence on Russia. But that did not stop them from linking arms with the G7 nations in instituting sanctions.
Japan acknowledged that it would be difficult to cut off Russian oil imports quickly. But they were willing to ban Russian coal imports in stages as well.
One of the reasons for the delayed bans in Japan is that they shut down many of their nuclear reactors after the crisis at Fukushima in 2011. Since then, they have become the fifth-largest supplier of crude oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) worldwide.
The biggest oil refiner in Japan is Eneos Holdings Inc. They have already ended purchasing crude oil from Russia and have now focused on Middle Eastern oil. The second-biggest refiner, Idemitsu Kosan Co Ltd, has also indicated that it has no plans to purchase crude oil from Russia.
Shinya Okuda, the senior managing director of the Petroleum Association of Japan (PAJ), said to the press, “Japan’s major refiners have already suspended signing any new term contracts to buy Russian oil and there have been no issues in securing alternatives. Refiners will continue their efforts to diversify supply sources, but Japan’s dependency on the Middle East crude will have to increase in the short term as the region’s supply capacity is so high.”
The Middle East already supplied 93% of Japan’s oil imports for the year 2021. But Prime Minister Kishida did say that Japan would not make changes to his government’s plan to keep business interests in some Russian energy corporations.
And PAJ’s Okuda agreed that it was better to keep these connections because of Japan’s energy alliances. If they gave them up, countries like China would come in a take them over because of the positive conditions that Japan has worked out.
Kishida’s administration has risen in popularity with Japan’s people. Support for his cabinet has gained 3 percentage points since the sanctions were publicized.
They now have 64% of their people saying that they approved of the government’s response to the war in Ukraine.
This is just one more piece in the puzzle that increases pressure on Putin and the Russian government.