Unexpected consequences of Corporate Japan’s actions on US East Asia policy discussed

On February 5, Japanese trading giant Itochu made a surprising announcement that it was terminating its agreement with Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems. This decision has had a significant impact on corporate Japan. Itochu specifically cited the International Court of Justice ruling that Israel may be committing genocide in Gaza, as well as the position of the Japanese government that the ICJ decision must be implemented “in good faith”.

Itochu is a household name in Japan, being the third largest trading firm and a key player in the country’s economy with a 2023 revenue of over $104 billion. The company’s decision carries a strong message about the acceptability of doing business with Israel.

In contrast to the decision made by Itochu, many Western states and companies have either ignored the ICJ ruling or disparaged the charges of genocide as “without merit”. Some Western governments continue to provide Israel with weapons and political support in violation of the ICJ’s preliminary decision. The decision by Itochu puts it in a different league from these Western governments.

The termination of the agreement with Elbit is likely a result of the pressure exerted on Itochu by various groups, including demonstrations in front of its Tokyo headquarters, and the popular boycott of the Itochu-owned convenience store chain Family Mart in Muslim countries like Malaysia. This pressure pushed the company over the line, leading to the decision to sever ties with Elbit.

Itochu’s decision could mark the beginning of a new trend and a major step back in Japan’s remilitarization and full integration into the US’ anti-China military grouping in East Asia. However, while private companies can take steps such as the one taken by Itochu, it is ultimately governments that must shape the playing field for businesses and ensure they respect human rights. Western governments, and Japan, in particular, must stop their support of Israeli apartheid and genocide and ensure that companies in their jurisdictions do the same. This is the only way to salvage the last vestiges of their decaying credibility.

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