The government declined calls for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to join Western leaders in condemning Russia in December over the Syrian civil war, fearing that doing so would negatively affect his impending summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, diplomatic sources said.
Japan’s dissociation from that action, despite its role this year as chair of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, has drawn criticism that it put its interests ahead of the humanitarian crisis in the city of Aleppo and damaged G-7 solidarity.
In a statement issued Dec. 7, the leaders of Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and the United States called for an immediate cease-fire in Aleppo, condemned the Syrian government for its attacks, and condemned Russia, Syria’s chief backer, for blocking humanitarian aid.
It also called on the United Nations to investigate reports of alleged war crimes and evidence to hold perpetrators responsible, while singling out Russia for preventing the U.N. Security Council from working effectively to end atrocities in Aleppo.
Sources close to the G-7 said that with the exception of Japan, the leaders of its member countries, including U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, backed the statement. Several days before its release, their governments also sounded out the Japanese government about Abe endorsing the statement, but Tokyo declined, they said.
One diplomatic source expressed disappointment with Japan’s stance, saying Abe’s absence made what should have been a G-7 statement a Group of Six statement.
The source also wondered whether the other G-7 nations might balk at supporting a statement blaming China for its activities in the South China Sea should the need for such a statement arise.
The statement was issued just days before Putin arrived in Japan for a summit to discuss a long-running territorial dispute and economic cooperation between Japan and Russia.
“We held consultations over this at the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office after we were asked to join the statement through Germany,” a high-level government official said.
“We picked Russia over Europe and the United States this time around, determining that even if Japan added its name (to the statement), it would not have a major impact on the Syrian civil war.”