Japan recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate president on Tuesday, joining the over 50 democratic nations around the world to have already done so.
“We express our clear support for interim President Guaidó,” Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said at a news conference. “Japan hopes a free and fair election will be held swiftly.”
The move adds to the growing international pressure on the regime of dictator Nicolás Maduro from over 50 countries around the world, led by the United States, who recognize Guaidó as the country’s president following his inauguration last month.
Kono also released a statement earlier this month condemning the regime for its attacks on democracy after Maduro swore himself in for an additional six-year term:
Japan has repeatedly expressed concerns about the deterioration of the economic and social conditions and the humanitarian crises in Venezuela. Regarding the presidential election held in May, 2018, Japan has repeatedly urged the Venezuelan government to fulfill its accountability to resolve the doubt of the international community about the legitimacy of the election. Japan deplores that the political, economic and social situations have been deteriorating in Venezuela while the Venezuelan government has not duly responded to such requests.
The statement did not go so far as to recognize Guaidó as the country’s legitimate president:
The President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Mr. Juan Guaidó, swore himself in as the Interim President of Venezuela to hold a presidential election. Japan supports the will of Venezuelan people seeking recovery of democracy based on its constitutional order, and once again urges that such will should be respected. Japan, along with the international community, urges that a free and fair presidential election should be expeditiously held.
The statement also criticized Maduro over the country’s ongoing humanitarian crisis, pledging support for neighboring countries such as Colombia who have had to take in millions of refugees:
Japan remains concerned that the deterioration of the economic and social situations in Venezuela has seriously affected the Venezuelan people, particularly those in vulnerable situations, and that waves of people fleeing Venezuela are causing a region-wide impact including on neighboring countries. Japan will continue to provide support for the Venezuelan people including those fleeing Venezuela, as well as for neighboring countries affected.
Japan has previously expressed concern over the regime’s attacks on democracy as well as its human rights violations. Last year, Kono argued that the Maduro regime must be “held accountable in front of the international community.” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza later criticized the remarks as “prepotent, unfriendly, hostile, and violating international law.”
The announcement also makes Japan the first Asian country to recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s President. The majority of countries on the continent either support Maduro or have not commented publicly on the situation. The socialist regime’s biggest backer in the region is Russia, although recent reports indicate that the Kremlin now accepts Maduro will struggle to remain in power.
Despite providing significant financial support to the regime, China has avoided explicitly calling Maduro the legitimate head of state of Venezuela. Instead, Chinese commentary on the matter has focused on officials warning the United States to stay out of the crisis. Conversely, Taiwan has pledged to support U.S.-led humanitarian efforts in the country but has yet to state any official diplomatic position on who is running it.