Japanese PM Fumio Kishida visits Ottawa to discuss economy, trade, China and Russia

Prime Minister of Japan Kishida Fumio and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leave Parliament Hill following meetings in Ottawa on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Prime Minister of Japan Kishida Fumio and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leave Parliament Hill following meetings in Ottawa on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Russia's nuclear threats over Ukraine resonate deeply with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who made the war in eastern Europe a key topic of his talks Thursday with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a whirlwind visit to Ottawa ahead of a trip to the U.S.

Kishida is from Hiroshima, where the world's first wartime use of atomic weapons still casts a long shadow.

His officials say holding this year's G7 meeting in the city — which was largely obliterated in the American attack in 1945 that hastened the end of the Second World War — will be hugely symbolic in the context of current geopolitical tensions among Moscow, Beijing and Washington.

Kishida is winding up a world tour that has seen him travel to Italy, France, the U.K. and now Canada ahead of the G7 summit in May. He has signalled he wants to keep the G7's attention on Ukraine and the economic fallout from Russia's invasion.

"Being faced with Russia's aggression against Ukraine, which shook the very foundation of the international order, the international community is now at a historic turning point," Kishida said in a video statement before his global tour.

"The G7 firmly rejects … the threat or use of nuclear weapons and upholds the international order based on the rule of law."

Naohiko Hatta/Associated Press
Naohiko Hatta/Associated Press

Following his meeting with Trudeau, Kishida cited his government's recently unveiled national security strategy — which pledges to double the country's defence spending by 2027 by injecting an additional $320 billion into the military.

Although he did not point specifically to China's threats to reclaim Taiwan by force, Kishida said Japan and Canada "strongly agree" that there should be no attempt to change the international "status quo" through violence.

"That should never happen anywhere, including in Asia," he said.

Kishida pointed to the unpredictable nature of the regime in North Korea and the number of ballistic missiles it has tested this year.

He did not mention the long-running dispute with Moscow over the Kuril Islands, which Russia has occupied since the end of the Second World War. Japan, he said, is trying to address difficult questions with its security policy.

"We're seeing such tough changes in the security environment," Kishida said. "The lives of ... Japanese people and businesses, can we really protect them?"

Canada is still working on its own defence policy reset, but Trudeau insisted his government also has recognized the threat and has begun making investments in the military.

"We're all recognizing that the world is changing. The world changed when Russia chose to invade a peaceful neighbour and we understand that persistent threats caused by unstable or authoritarian states around the world ... that's going to require us - unfortunately - to continue to step up," Trudeau said.

Ahead of his face-to-face meeting with Trudeau on Parliament Hill, Kishida said he welcomed Canada's new Indo-Pacific Strategy, which signalled deeper Canadian military and economic involvement in the region.

"I also truly welcome the deepening of the involvement and engagement of Canada in the Indo-Pacific region. And I also look forward to steadily implementing the Japan-Canada Action Plan, and also in promote [sic] co-operation in pursuit of a free and open Indo-Pacific through that steadily implementation," Kishida said through an interpreter.

The Japanese prime minister then turned his attention to energy and the economy.

"We are facing an energy crisis and countries around the world are trying to strike the balance between ensuring a stable supply of energy as well as, on the other side, the de-carbonization," he said, "And in that sense, I am confident that Canada will play a major role, as a resource-rich country."

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Trudeau focused most of his remarks on the growing economic relationship between the two countries and mentioned "a big trade mission coming from Japan to look at critical minerals" in this country — minerals that are in high demand for battery production. Canada is also sending a trade mission to Japan this year, Trudeau said.

The visit is "a great opportunity for us to continue the conversations we've been having over many summits over the past years on regional security on global security, on trade and economic growth," Trudeau said.

Trudeau and Kishida attended a luncheon at the National Arts Centre before hosting a joint news conference at 2:30 p.m.

Seeking energy security

This is the first Canadian visit by an Asian head of government since Ottawa launched its Indo-Pacific strategy last November, which called for closer ties with countries that can counterbalance China's influence.

Japan is similarly trying to pivot away from relying on China and Russia for electricity and food.

To that end, Kishida has created the position of a minister of state for economic security and is trying to bring nuclear reactors back online after dozens were shut down following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The country is so reliant on Russian fuel that G7 countries gave Japan an exemption on a measure that caps the price of Russian oil below market rates, to spare Japan the same scramble for energy sources that Europe undertook last year.