20:00 JST, May 16, 2023
MORONI — Comorian President Azali Assoumani decried Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a violation of international law and stressed the importance of international order based on the rule of law in an exclusive interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun.
The interview took place on May 12 at the presidential palace in Moroni, the capital of Comoros. Comoros, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, holds the African Union presidency for a one-year term that began in February.
Azali, who will participate in the summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations to be held in Hiroshima from Friday to Sunday as chairman of the A.U., stressed the importance of maintaining the international order, which has been shaken by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying that “the observance of international law protects small countries like the Comoros.”
The Comoros depends on former colonial power France for its security, and has a total military capacity of only about 1,100 troops.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has aggravated the food crisis and inflation in Africa. Given these current conditions, Azali said, “Africa would like this war to be ended as soon as possible.” Meanwhile, he also stated that he would attend the Russia-Africa Summit, which Russia will hold in July for the first time in four years.
Many African countries take a neutral stance toward the confrontation between the West and Russia, especially those countries where those who received support from the former Soviet Union during the Cold War are in power. Azali’s remarks indicate that Africa does not want the confrontation to intensify, while keeping step with the G7 and its condemnation of Russia.
Regarding China, which has strengthened ties with African countries through economic aid and resource imports, Azali said that “China is a major partner” and praised its role, including investment in the countries. Expressing concern about the escalation of U.S.-China friction, he said, “We can try to ease the tension a little between China and the United States” at the G7 summit.
“China has a principle of not interfering in the internal affairs [of African countries]. We’ve never heard of an African country severing diplomatic relations with China,” Azali noted. “Unfortunately, this often happens with European countries and the United States.”
In Africa, where there is a long history of colonial rule by European countries, there is potentially a deep-rooted distrust of the U.S. and Europe. The principles of human rights and democracy espoused by the U.S. and European countries are widely accepted in Africa, but there is a high risk of a backlash against an “extension of colonialism,” as a senior Comorian government official put it, if the Western stance of demanding observance of such values is perceived as interference.
The Comoros has traditionally followed a pro-U.S. and pro-European diplomatic stance, with France at the center. While appreciating the concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific, which Japan and the U.S. are emphasizing, Azali said, “This must be done with all the countries concerned,” showing consideration for China, which sees the concept as an encirclement of it.
As a measure to strengthen relations with Japan, Azali expressed his willingness to expand cooperation in the field of renewable energy, such as geothermal power generation. He also revealed that he has requested the Japanese government to open an embassy in the Comoros.