Japan sends non-lethal defence equipment to aid Ukraine, toughens language on Russia

The delivery was made by a Self-Defence Force KC-767 transport aircraft on March 8, 2022. PHOTO: MODJAPAN_EN/TWITTER

TOKYO - Japan has for the first time provided non-lethal defence equipment such as helmets and bulletproof vests to another country, sending a shipment to front-line fighters in Ukraine.

The delivery, made by a Self-Defence Force KC-767 transport aircraft on Tuesday (March 8), is significant even if there are no plans for Japan to send lethal weapons in line with its pacifist Constitution.

This comes as Japan has toughened its position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said has "shaken the foundations of the international order to the core".

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is set to label Russia as a challenge when he revises Japan's National Security Strategy guidelines later this year, reports said last week.

A second delivery of items such as tents, winter clothing, food rations and cameras will be made as soon as they are ready, according to Japan's Defence Ministry.

Tuesday's shipment came after Tokyo revised its guidelines on the transfer of defence equipment, which would otherwise have banned shipments to countries that are "party to a conflict".

Ukraine should not apply in this case, Tokyo said, given that it was invaded by Russia.

Such shipments have been allowed since 2014, when then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reviewed an embargo on arms exports under the principle of "proactive contribution for peace".

Japan has begun to distance itself from Russia, which Mr Abe sought to woo in the hopes of concluding a World War II peace treaty and settling their territorial dispute over four islands north of Hokkaido.

The islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, were occupied by Moscow in the final days of World War II after Japan announced its surrender but before the surrender documents were signed.

The current National Security Strategy, adopted in 2013, labels Russia as a "partner" to promote international peace and stability. Tokyo is, however, under no illusions that a peace treaty can be concluded with a hostile country.

Japan is one of 41 countries to have referred Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as well as the bombings of maternity hospitals, to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Mr Kishida has also dropped Mr Abe's nuanced language over the disputed islands - "islands over which Japan has sovereignty" with the Russian occupation "without legal grounds" - and said they were "inherent territories of Japan" that are "under illegal occupation".

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said on Tuesday that the change in language was based on the dimming prospect of peace treaty negotiations.

Follow The Straits Times' live coverage on the Ukraine crisis here.

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