Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's whirlwind trip to Brussels to meet U.S. and European leaders was the latest sign of how the Asian country is committed to working with international allies and partners to decisively respond to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Japan's tough line now contrasts with its tepid response to Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, reflecting its concern that any tolerance of the Kremlin's attempt to alter the status quo by force could only embolden China, which has grown more assertive in the Indo-Pacific.
But questions remain as to whether the unprecedented level of sanctions unleashed by the world's leading democratic economies will pressure Russia to give up on its monthlong invasion and will help deter what could be the next Ukraine -- Chinese military action against Taiwan.
"We were able to affirm our resolve that the G-7 will lead efforts to defend the international order," Kishida said Thursday after attending the Group of Seven meeting with his counterparts from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United States plus the European Union during his less than 12-hour stay in Belgium.
James Schoff, a former senior adviser for East Asia policy at the Pentagon, said Japan, the world's third-largest economy, moving in line with the United States and European countries in punishing Russia over its aggression was "really important to helping to make the sanctions more effective, psychologically and in concrete terms."
As the sole Asian member of the G-7, Japan also has an important role to play, including connecting what is going on in Europe to other strategic predicaments that require continued attention, said Schoff, who is currently a senior director at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA in Washington.
"China is the most obvious one because it's the one that's most likely to behave the way Russia is behaving," he said, thinking of Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island that Beijing views as a renegade province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
In lockstep with other G-7 countries, Japan has imposed severe economic sanctions on Russia, including those targeting President Vladimir Putin and business oligarchs who are enabling the war, restrictions on transactions with its central bank and exclusions of certain banks from the world's main international payment network.
In addition, Japan has decided to provide bulletproof vests and other supplies to Ukraine, a rare delivery of defense equipment to a warring party that is restricted under the Asian country's post-World War II pacifist Constitution.
Ken Jimbo, a professor of international relations at Japan's Keio University, said Tokyo's moves may not be as dramatic as Berlin's policy shifts in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, including Germany's decisions to end its traditional restraint on supplying lethal weapons to war zones, increase its defense spending and halt a key natural gas pipeline linking it to Russia.
But they clearly demonstrated Japan's resolve to stand up to Russia, even though doing so could complicate Tokyo's efforts to place more emphasis on China when allocating defense resources, Jimbo suggested in an audio recording recently posted by the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, a think tank in Britain.
The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has touted the "united front" against Russia that includes some key allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific, such as Australia, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
In Asia, however, the reaction to Russia's aggression has been mixed. There is concern that China could provide military and financial support for Moscow's war effort despite warnings from Washington that it will face "consequences," while India, which has long-standing military ties with Russia, has not condemned the invasion.
China and India were among the 35 countries that abstained from the vote on a U.N. General Assembly resolution in early March deploring Russia's aggression against Ukraine. Four countries -- Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea and Syria -- joined Russia in voting against the resolution.
Biden recently signaled his disappointment that, in terms of responding to Russia's aggression, India was not fully on board with other members of the "Quad" -- a group also including Australia and Japan that his administration views as key to counteracting China's growing clout in the Indo-Pacific.
India is "somewhat shaky," the U.S. president said, while noting that Japan "has been extremely strong" and so has Australia in dealing with Russia's aggression.
Schoff said he still believes the West "will be able to apply very damaging economic pressure on Russia" through sanctions, but added it is "just not going to be fast enough in terms of its impact unless we're surprised by some kind of political upheaval in Russia that we don't see right now."
Michael Green, an expert on Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he does not agree with the argument that the United States should not be overly invested in the Ukraine crisis because of the challenge posed by China, which the Biden administration has singled out as the only competitor potentially able to mount a challenge to an open international system.
If Moscow prevails in the war, there would be significant demand for U.S. ground forces to deal with the Russian front, and that "in the long run, would be a much larger distraction and pull the resources away from the Pacific than if we invest now in deterring and complicating Russian ambitions," he said.
Schoff, meanwhile, said China still seems "extremely dedicated to absorbing" Taiwan and is "taking notes" on developments in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, including the ability of the United States and its allies to convincingly isolate the "perceived bad actor" using nonmilitary means in an effective way.
"If Putin fails...to achieve his objectives (in the war) and suffers in the meantime, I think we may have bought ourselves a few extra years of caution on the Chinese front."