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Japan PM presses Modi for Indian ‘action’ on Ukraine

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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida began talks with Indian counterpart Narendra Modi Saturday, with the visiting leader saying he would be urging Modi to adopt a tougher line and “take action” over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A motorist rides past a billboard welcoming Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to India before his arrival in New Delhi on March 19, 2022. AFP

Unlike fellow members of the Quad alliance—Japan, Australia, and the United States—India has abstained in three UN votes condemning Moscow’s actions, calling only for a halt to the violence.

Kishida’s office quoted him saying before meeting Modi that “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is an outrage that undermines the very foundation of the order of the international community, including Asia”.

“Such unilateral changes to the status quo are also absolutely unacceptable in the Indo-Pacific region. During this overseas trip (to India and Cambodia) I will engage in exchanges of views with my counterparts about the situation in Ukraine and other matters and urge them to take action,” Kishida’s office tweeted.

This month in a four-way call between Quad leaders, Kishida, US President Joe Biden, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison failed to convince Modi to back their position.

A joint statement said they “discussed the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and assessed its broader implications”— without any condemnation of Moscow.

A separate Indian readout pointedly “underlined that the Quad must remain focused on its core objective of promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region”.

Ahead of Kishida’s visit, the first by a Japanese premier since 2017, a Japanese foreign ministry official said Tokyo was “aware” of Delhi’s “geographical location and historical ties to Russia”.

“But at the same time we share fundamental values and strategic interests so naturally there will be candid discussions about how we view the Ukraine situation,” the official told reporters.

He added that Modi, 71, and Kishida, 64, would also discuss “issues closer to our region” such as a “free and open Indo-Pacific” — a reference to China — and bilateral issues.

“That will be more the opportunity to take stock of the bilateral cooperation as well as reaffirming our shared strategic vision and interests rather than emphasising on what our differences are,” the official said.

China clash

Modi and Morrison are also due to hold a virtual summit on March 21 focused on trade, when the Australian premier may again press his Indian counterpart to fall more into the Western camp over Ukraine. 

Russia has been India’s main arms supplier since the Soviet era, but today Delhi also needs more support from the Quad and others in the region and beyond in the face of an increasingly assertive China.

Tensions between New Delhi and Beijing have been high since a 2020 clash on their disputed Himalayan border killed at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers. 

Both have since sent additional military hardware—in India’s case much of it Russian-made—and thousands of extra troops to the area.

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