After President Putin’s Visit to Japan

|Russia & Mongolia

President Putin’s visit to Japan has ended. As expected, it was not possible to bridge the differences in the standpoints of Japan and Russia with regard to the Northern Territories issue, and the formulation of a joint document was also deferred. Moreover, Russo-Japanese cooperation in oil development in Eastern Siberia and the construction of a delivery pipeline were initially expected to be the focus of President Putin’s visit to Japan, instead of the Northern Territories issue, but the Japanese proposal, which emphasized the construction of the pipeline to the Pacific coast in a single phase, was ultimately not accepted and the adoption of a two-phase method was confirmed. As a result, the commencement of work prioritizing the China route effectively became certain. For Japan, President Putin’s visit achieved nothing.

A variety of causes can be envisaged. As a result of Russia’s good economic situation at present, against the background of runaway growth in energy prices, the effectiveness of what had been Japan’s best card in pursuing diplomacy with Russia – the “economic support in exchange for the conclusion of a peace treaty that entails a solution to the Northern Territories issue”card – has declined considerably. Moreover, Russia and China, which had an adversarial relationship during the Cold War, have developed deeper mutual economic dependence over the last ten years or so since the end of the Cold War and the relationship between them have improved significantly, due to such factors as a complete resolution of the territorial problem between them in October last year, so there are also limits to the effectiveness of the so-called “China card”.

Nevertheless, I cannot agree with the viewpoint propounded in the November 22nd editorial published in the Yomiuri Shimbun, which cited the example of the demand made in July by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, led by China and Russia, that the US military stipulate a timetable for its withdrawal from Central Asia; specifically, the editorial stated that, “It is probably only natural that Russia, which is deepening its relationship with China (in its strategy vis-à-vis the US), should see the improvement of its relationship with Japan, which has an alliance with the US, as a low priority.” I am focusing on the following two things that happened before President Putin’s visit to Japan.

  1. On October 6th, the Putin administration decided to integrate the Central Asia Cooperation Organization, which was established by Russia and other Central Asian countries separately from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Eurasian Economic Community, which is led by Russia and was formed with the aim of creating a free trade zone in the former Soviet Union region. In fact, China is seeking to use the Shanghai Cooperation Organization framework in order to expand its economic interests, focusing on its own energy resources in the Central Asia region. Wary about this, Russia intends to counter this offensive by China by integrating the Central Asia Cooperation Organization and the Eurasian Economic Community. In other words, there are major differences between Russia and China with regard to their Central Asian strategies and there is a strong possibility that these could expand further in the future.
  2. Furthermore, it was announced on November 6th that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) had arrested Igor Reshetin, Director of Tsniimash-Export, a company affiliated to Russia’s Federal Space Agency, and two of his staff, on charges of leaking state secrets to China.

In other words, it is not the case that there are such stable strategic foundations as suggested in the aforementioned Yomiuri Shimbun article.

Moreover, relations between the US and Russia work on the basis of a different logic from that employed during the Cold War era. On October 12th, at a joint press conference with the President of Poland, President Bush himself said that, “I recognize that Russian democracy is different from the US version. We do not expect that all countries will become the same as us.” In addition, with regard to the issue of Iran’s nuclear development program, which is said to be the biggest concern in relations between the two countries, there is not a particularly serious adversarial relationship between the US and Russia at present, as their positions have rapidly become closer of late. Consequently, although some people cite President Bush’s speech in May this year, in which he criticized the Yalta Agreement (the Riga speech), and state that “Japan should cooperate with US and put pressure on the Putin administration”, this is not realistic.

I believe that it is not impossible for Japan and Russia to build a constructive, strategic relationship around the China factor. However, because of this, there is a pressing need to conduct a thorough discussion within Japan, concerning the external strategy that we should adopt in the 21st century.

[Translated by ERINA]