Photo/Illutration Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers a virtual address to lawmakers in the Diet building in Tokyo on March 23. (The Asahi Shimbun)

The ongoing war in Ukraine should not be regarded as an event unfolding in a country far from ours.

When peace is destroyed somewhere in the world, everyone in every country should feel uncertainty about the security of their future.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s speech on March 23 before the Diet came as a painful reminder of this grim reality of the world. His 12-minute virtual address was full of powerful rhetoric designed to touch the heartstrings of Japanese politicians and the people.

Zelenskyy talked about nuclear power plants under threat, citizens forced to part with their loved ones and his country’s resolution to rebuild itself.

As a pacifist country that can profoundly understand and sympathize with the hardships and challenges Ukrainians are facing, Japan should express afresh its strong opposition to Russia’s aggression against the neighbor and enhance its solidarity with Ukraine.

The Japanese government has imposed sanctions against Russia in step with the United States and Europe and announced $100 million (12.19 billion yen) of emergency humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pledged additional humanitarian support to Ukraine.

The Ukrainian leader voiced his gratitude for the fact that Japan played a leading role in Asia to put real pressure on Russia.

But Japan needs to do more to fulfill its responsibilities. As a major free state in the region, Japan needs to become more aware of its duties and more active in fulfilling them.

The war has underscored the complexities of the positions of various Asian nations. In the U.N. General Assembly’s vote on a resolution to denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many Asian countries, including China and India, abstained.

Earlier this month, Kishida visited India and Cambodia and reaffirmed that Japan shares with them a solid commitment to rejecting any attempt to change the status quo by force. His trip to these countries should mark a start of Tokyo’s redoubled diplomatic efforts to make the rule of law firmly established in Asia as an unquestionable principle.

Zelenskyy also referred to the need to reform the United Nations. This is a diplomatic challenge Kishida has been keen to tackle.

The key question is how to improve the current situation where there is no way to stop any permanent member of the U.N. Security Council from acting against the collective will of the international community.

The history of the Security Council is littered with cases where resolutions supported by many countries were vetoed by permanent members including the United States and China, as well as Russia.

How to ensure the United Nations can work effectively as a collective security system has direct implications for international efforts to prevent future armed conflicts around the world. As a nation that served as a nonpermanent member of the Security Council more times than any other, Japan has a duty to lead the debate on this question.

Postwar reconstruction and humanitarian aid are two areas Japan should play an especially active role. Using lessons learned from its experiences in such countries as Afghanistan and Iraq and working with key partners including international aid organizations, the Japanese government needs to help build a system for long-term support for Ukraine’s postwar efforts to reconstruct the nation.

Huge numbers of Ukrainians are fleeing their homes and taking shelter in other countries including neighboring Poland. In addition to providing emergency relief to Ukrainian refugees through U.N. agencies, Japan should also accept Ukrainians who wish to take refuge in Japan.

The government has started accepting Ukrainians who have relatives and friends in Japan by granting them a three-month visa. It has offered a one-year working visa for those who wish to stay for the medium and long term. We urge the Japanese immigration authorities to make flexible and swift responses to their needs.

Japan’s reluctance to accept refugees is widely known internationally. The current crisis should trigger serious debate in Japan on how it should respond to the needs and desires of people who have been deprived of their freedom and safety by civil war or dictatorship and ask for assistance to ease their plight. 

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 25