Japan’s Prime Minister Tells Vatican of Concern About Human Rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang

The Holy See Press Office said the two also spoke of ‘the war in Ukraine, stressing the urgency of dialogue and peace and expressing the hope, to this end, for a world free of nuclear weapons.’

Pope Francis meets with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the Vatican on May 4.
Pope Francis meets with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the Vatican on May 4. (photo: National Catholic Register / Vatican Media)

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met with Pope Francis on Wednesday and told Vatican officials of his deep concern about China’s actions in the South China Sea and the human-rights situation in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

According to a statement from the Japanese Embassy to the Holy See on May 4, Kishida had “a fruitful exchange of views” with Pope Francis, “addressing issues such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, East Asia, North Korea.”

In particular, the Japanese leader told the Pope about North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile toward the Sea of Japan and “expressed concern about North Korea’s activities in the field of missile and nuclear weapons tests.”

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told journalists that Pope Francis condemned the use and possession of nuclear weapons during the 25-minute meeting as “inconceivable.”

Following his meeting with the Pope, the prime minister met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin for 55 minutes.

“Prime Minister Kishida expressed deep concern over unilateral attempts to subvert the status quo by force in the East China Sea and South China Sea, as well as the human-rights situation in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang region, expressing apprehension over the nuclear and missile issue of North Korea, which also executed a ballistic missile launch today,” the embassy statement said about the meeting with Cardinal Parolin.

As prime minister, Kishida has often criticized China’s actions in the South China Sea, where the Chinese Communist Party claims nearly all the territory, causing disputes with Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, which have competing territorial claims.

Cardinal Parolin, who is a key architect of the Holy See’s provisional agreement with China, has remained mostly silent on the human-rights situation in Hong Kong and China’s Xinjiang region, where Uyghur Muslims face forced labor and other violations

A brief statement issued by the Holy See Press Office did not specifically mention Hong Kong or Xinjiang. 

It said: “Attention then turned to issues of an international nature, with particular attention to the war in Ukraine, stressing the urgency of dialogue and peace and expressing the hope, to this end, for a world free of nuclear weapons.”

The Japanese government does not have its own nuclear weapons and is the only country in the world to have suffered a nuclear attack. 

Shinzo Abe, the former prime minister of Japan, suggested that Japan should consider “nuclear sharing” after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

According to the Japanese embassy statement, Kishida, however, “expressed his intention to collaborate with the Holy See to create a ‘world without nuclear weapons,” and thanked Pope Francis for visiting his hometown, Hiroshima, which was hit by an atomic bomb in 1945.

The meeting between the Pope and the prime minister marked the 80th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and the Holy See.

“Having learned that in the past he had a desire to carry out missionary activity in Japan, following the example of the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier, Prime Minister Kishida thanked Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, for his particular consideration towards his country,” the Japanese embassy said.