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With Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga all dosed up with Pfizer vaccine ahead of his trip to Washington next week, one potential discussion topic could throw a wet blanket on proceedings, writes Satoshi Sugiyama: Japan’s somewhat muted role in advocating for human rights through diplomacy in Asia.

A tug-of-war between Japan’s Foreign Ministry and some lawmakers, with Suga standing on the sidelines, illustrates the challenge confronting Tokyo: Take stronger action on issues such as China’s crackdowns in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and Myanmar’s killing of protesters, or risk alienating the U.S.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry is convinced that its traditional “dialogue and cooperation” approach gets results in the region, while some lawmakers are uniting across the aisle to push for a domestic “Magnitsky Act” to enable Japan to use sanctions to punish human rights abuses.

Xinjiang: China's Muslim minorities | DW DOCUMENTARY
Xinjiang: China’s Muslim minorities | DW DOCUMENTARY

Responding to the Myanmar coup, Japan has halted new aid to the country but has stopped short of imposing sanctions on military and police figures, a step some other nations have taken. While commentator Ramesh Thakur argues that ASEAN could play a key role in ending the bloodshed, the JT Editorial Board singles out China for enabling the junta.

On the Uyghur issue, public awareness in Japan of China’s repression of minorities in Xinjiang is growing, spurred in part by the work of Uyghur activists. And that is increasing pressure on the government to take action, The New York Times reports.

China, predictably, has urged Japan to steer clear of “internal issues,” including Hong Kong and Xinjiang, as Suga prepares to meet Biden. Watch that space for further developments.

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