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China’s new strategy in South China Sea

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Clearly, Obama’s pivot to Asia to contain China (as well as Russia) came as a timely warning to Beijing to take precautionary measures against US mischief in the South China Sea.

China is determined to block American that might obstruct the Chinese navigation of trade vessels to Middle East and Central Asia in the South China Sea (SCS). The South China Sea is an open ocean and doesn’t appear at first glance to be a geographical bottleneck. Washington said China can, however, effectively create a strait by locating sufficient military assets on two sets of land it controls. Beijing is busy making a new strategic strait in the region.

The South China Sea, several hundred nautical miles wide, doesn’t appear at first glance to be a geographical bottleneck. China can, however, effectively create a strait by locating sufficient military assets on two sets of land it controls: the Paracel Islands in the north and the Spratly Islands in the south. Rapp-Hooper said she did not think the situation in the South China Sea was close to reaching the level of a strategic strait. China’s current outposts could “greatly complicate US operational planning in the region, but it is hard to see” the country locking down the region with the island bases it now operates.

There are few circumstances where China would want to restrict commercial movement in the area, but the real problem is that Beijing could readily exercise that capacity in times of crisis or conflict. And that’s where the United States comes into play: The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates the USA exported $79 billion in goods to the countries around the South China Sea in 2013, and imported $127 billion from them during that period. The region accounted in 2011 for $5.3 trillion in bilateral annual trade — $1.2 trillion of which is tied to the USA. Free access for commercial trade is a vital interest of the United States, so when one country has the capability to shut other countries off” when it chooses. Such a Chinese “strategic strait” to the Strait of Hormuz — a critical choke point for global trade. A full 90 percent of East Asian energy imports travel through the South China Sea.

China has already constructed artificial islands for missile launch on the South China Sea. Construction of Fiery Cross Reef located in the western part of the Spratly Islands group in the South China Sea has been completed. That decision is important for a number of reasons, but among them is that China’s island-grabbing campaign may be designed to give Beijing a strategic headlock on one of the planet’s most critical waterways.

China may have basically calculated that it will take some near-term, rather assertive actions in the South China Sea, and pay short-term reputation costs in exchange for what it believes to be longer-term strategic gains.

Beijing’s real rationale for risking its global reputation over a handful of tiny islands remains open for debate. Most agree that China truly believes it has a historic right to the region — but the South China Sea’s relatively paltry energy resources- especially with oil now so cheap – hardly justify such an assertive grab on a realpolitik basis.

Rather, many point to the geostrategic value of the South China Sea. “The logical conclusion drawn from China’s adding islands in the southern part of the South China Sea with military-sized runways, substantial port facilities, radar platforms and space to accommodate military forces is that China’s objective is to dominate the waters of the South China Sea at will. Building the islands is therefore a significant strategic event and they leave the potential for the South China Sea to become a Chinese strait, rather than an open component of the global maritime commons.

Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also lay claim to the waters in the South China Sea. Within the next three months, a tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected to rule on China’s expansive and somewhat ambiguous territorial claims in the South China Sea, which the Philippines contends are invalid under international law.

A major test for the future of Asia is on the horizon, and it’s centered on the South China Sea. Nations in the region are feeling the pressure from both China and the USA over South China Sea. The USA has been pressuring Asean members over the disputes.

China is intensifying its global diplomatic campaign to win ¬support ahead of an imminent international court ruling over the South China Sea disputes. Beyond the geographical claims themselves, the tribunal is also looking into whether Beijing is overstating the types of territory it controls — the air and maritime rights associated with rocks are different than those of reefs or islands — and the legality of other Chinese actions near the Philippines.

The State Oceanic Administration said Beijing was working on a five-year cooperation plan in the disputed waters between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The defense ministry said China would send missile ¬destroyer Lanzhou and Special Forces for a maritime security and anti-terror exercise next month with the bloc in waters between Singapore and Brunei.

The development came as ¬Beijing vowed greater cooperation and to proceed with multinational military exercises with Southeast Asian nations, but also called on countries to back its stance on the territorial disputes – putting many in a dilemma as they have to side with either China or the USA.

Beijing is also keen to ¬approach nations in Europe and Africa to consolidate its diplomatic base ahead of the ruling by the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, in a case launched by the Philippines. China says the court has no jurisdiction in the matter. Beijing says it has agreed with Cambodia, Laos and Brunei that the disputes would not affect Sino-Asean ties. But Cambodian government said his country had reached no new agreement with China over the dispute. Mainland media reported that more than 10 nations were on China’s side, and that a statement issued by China, Russia and India said the dispute should be resolved through negotiation.

Recently Chinese President Xi Jinping told a group of foreign ministers from Asia and the Middle East that the regional disputes should be resolved peacefully through negotiations among the countries directly involved. Beijing also said it had reached a consensus with Belarus and Pakistan – which are not claimant states – that said they respected China’s stance on the issue, after separate meetings with the two nations’ foreign ministers on the sidelines of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia.

The Chinese diplomatic move has sparked concern over whether Beijing is taking the dispute to the international stage – in contrast to its stance that the matter is a bilateral issue – and may backfire. Countries in the region want to be able to cooperate with China and have good relations with Beijing; they don’t want to face coercion or intimidation on matters of security or economic policy. “Claimants would much prefer a peaceful resolution of disputes,” Paul Haenle, director of the ¬Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre, said. Beijing has “no choice” as the USA was also doing the same, referring to an earlier statement made by G7 foreign ministers that expressed opposition to Chinas “provocative unilateral actions” in disputed waters.

Experts say that China will likely lose some elements of the Hague case, “Philippines v. China.” The world’s most populous nation has already denounced the process, and opted not to participate, but the tribunal’s decision will technically still be binding under international law. Experts who closely watch developments in the South China Sea sayl that they expect China to lose at least some of the elements of the case, but the real test will come in how Beijing reacts to a ruling. It’s possible that China will back off from its broadest claims, but it may also demonstrate a willingness to buck the international legal system.

It is argued that a part of the Chinese buildup in the area may come from Beijing’s own fears that other powers may attempt to shut down commerce in the South China Sea. But whatever the rationale for China’s island-building, the tribunal’s coming ruling is a real trigger for the future of the region and it may be causing China to build up its capabilities in the region faster. China realizes the pickle that they’re in, so they’re taking actions at sea to emphasize their physical control. It’s operational coercion to change the power dynamics in their favor — in response to a peaceful dispute resolution process.

China and Russia have been coordinating their security action to counter the US pivot in Asia. Both are ramping up their advanced hypersonic glide vehicle programs to counter a US plan to deploy an anti-missile system in South Korea and its push towards a leaner but tougher military. China’s latest hypersonic vehicle test seen as ‘nuclear deterrent’ amid US interference The hypersonic tests by China and Russia are aimed at causing a threat to the USA, which plans to set up a missile defence system in South Korea, known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD), which the US says is needed to protect its regional allies from North Korea. Beijing views the deployment as a threat to its military. Beijing carried out the seventh successful test-flight of its DF-ZF glider last week. The Pentagon sources said that the glider was mounted on a ballistic missile fired from the Wuzhai launch centre in Shanxi province, it said. Three days earlier, a US report says, Russia carried out the second test of its 3M22 Zircon glider, according to the Beacon. China mounts third hypersonic ‘Wu-14’ missile test. Last week, Beijing tested its newest intercontinental ballistic missile, the DF-41 which has a range of at least 12,000km – on April 12.

USA, China and Russia – all veto members and top possessors of nukes have indeed kicked off a new arms race. China and Russia were also concerned about the US’ shift towards the “Third Offset” strategy. The approach calls for the Pentagon to do more with less, as its traditional military advantages – such as a larger army and navy, as well as technological superiority – are steadily eroded.

The key areas where the Pentagon will focus its budget under this strategy are anti-access and area-denial, guided munitions; undersea warfare; cyber and electronic warfare; and new operating concepts. The USA hopes this will provide ways to neutralise threats from China and Russia’s militaries, which are growing increasingly sophisticated but continue to rely heavily on conventional weapons.

The Third Offset strategy and glide vehicle tests by China and Russia were signs that the three countries have kicked off a new arms race”, He said. China said in its annual defence white paper last year it would not engage in an arms race in outer space or with nuclear weapons. Beijing-based military expert Li Jie said China was trying to use the DF-ZF test to warn the US that the PLA had another powerful weapon capable of countering the THAAD system.

China’s second hypersonic glider test fails as PLA trials nuclear weapons delivery system. “China has no other choice, especially as the US has taken a series of provocative moves to get involved in China’s territorial disputes with other Asian countries in the South China Sea,” Li said. He pointed to the US deployment of six powerful A-10 Thunderbolt fighter jets to conduct a drill near the Scarborough Shoal, which China occupies but Manila also claims. “The DF-ZF is so far one of the offset weapons owned by China that could break the THAAD system,” Li said. The glider can travel up to 11,300km/h, said the Beacon, citing Pentagon officials familiar with details of the test.

China hails first test of hypersonic nuclear missile carrier

The Pentagon has kept a close eye on the development of the DF-ZF since it was first tested in January 2014. The programme was progressing rapidly and could be ready for deployment by 2020, according to the latest annual report submitted to congress by the Sino-US Economic and Security Review Commission. A more powerful version was also in development and could be fielded by 2025, it said. Russia’s 3M22 vehicle was expected to enter into production in 2018, according to the US diplomatic and defence magazine

On 15 January, 2014 China flight-tested a hypersonic missile delivery vehicle capable of penetrating any existing defence system with nuclear warheads, the Pentagon confirmed it.

In fact, the hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), dubbed the “Wu-14” by the United States, was detected flying at 10 times the speed of sound during a test flight over China last week. A Pentagon spokesman later confirmed the report but declined to provide details. “We routinely monitor foreign defence activities and we are aware of the test,” Marine Corpsc spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jeffery Pool told the Beacon.

Chinese military experts hailed the test as a breakthrough. It makes China the second country after the USA to have successfully tested a hypersonic delivery vehicle capable of carrying nuclear warheads at a speed above Mach 10.

Such a weapon has long been seen as a game-changer by security experts as it can hit a target before any of the existing missile defence systems can react. Once deployed, it could significantly boost China’s strategic and conventional missile force. It is designed to be carried by an intercontinental ballistic missile. Once it reaches an undisclosed sub-orbital altitude, the vehicle jettisons from the rocket and nose-dives towards the target at a speed of Mach 10, or 12,359km/h. In 2010, the US tested the Lockheed HTV-2 – a similar delivery vehicle capable of reaching speeds of up to Mach 20. Russia and India are also known to be working on such a weapon.

Last week’s test shows that China has managed to close the gaps with the US. Chinese scientists said China had put “enormous investment” into the project. More than 100 teams from leading research institutes and universities have been involved in the project.

Purpose-built facilities test various parts of the weapons system. The Chinese Academy of Sciences, for instance, has recently built one of the world’s largest and most advanced hypersonic wind tunnels to simulate flights at up to Mach 15 at the Institute of Mechanics in Beijing.

Researchers on hypersonic flight control at Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics said they were not surprised by the test last week because China was technologically ready. The objective of hypersonic vehicles was to outmaneuver and penetrate a missile defence system. “With a speed of Mach 10 or higher, it cannot be caught or tracked because defence systems don’t have enough time to respond,” one researcher Wang said. She said the US remained the indisputable leader in the field but no country was ready to deploy the first practical hypersonic missile as many technological challenges remained. One outstanding issue was how to achieve precise flight control at such high speeds.

Scientists are also trying to develop a better “super material” that can withstand the high temperatures during hypersonic flights. “I am sure many tests will be carried out after last week’s flight to solve the problems,” Wang said. “It’s just the beginning.” Li Jie , a Beijing-based naval expert, said hypersonic weapons were of strategic and tactical importance to China. “Many technical issues have not been solved and no country has made it ready for use in the field,” he said. “But it is a challenge we must surmount, and we are throwing everything we have at it.” Ni Lexiong , a Shanghai-based naval expert, said China might still need some time to catch up with the US but the day could arrive sooner than many expect. “Missiles will play a dominant role in warfare and China has a very clear idea of what is important.”

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East Asia

Importance of peace in Afghanistan is vital for China

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image source: chinamission.be

There are multiple passages from Afghanistan to China, like Wakhan Corridor that is 92 km long, stretching to Xinjiang in China. It was formed in 1893 as a result of an agreement between the British Empire and Afghanistan. Another is Chalachigu valley that shares the border with Tajikistan to the north, Pakistan to the south, and Afghanistan to the west. It is referred to as the Chinese part of the Wakhan Corridor. However, the Chinese side of the valley is closed to the public and only local shepherds are allowed. Then there is Wakhjir Pass on the eastern side of the Wakhan corridor but is not accessible to the general public. The terrain is rough on the Afghan side. There are no roads along the Wakhjir Pass, most of the terrain is a dirt track. Like other passages, it can only be accessed via either animals or SUVs, and also due to extreme weather it is open for only seven months throughout the year. North Wakhjir Pass, also called Tegermansu Pass, is mountainous on the border of China and Afghanistan. It stretches from Tegermansu valley on the east and Chalachigu Valley in Xinjiang. All of these passages are extremely uncertain and rough which makes them too risky to be used for trade purposes. For example, the Chalagigu valley and Wakhjir Pass are an engineering nightmare to develop, let alone make them viable.

Similarly, the Pamir mountain range is also unstable and prone to landslides. Both of these routes also experience extreme weather conditions. Alternatives: Since most of the passages are risky for travel, alternatively, trade activities can be routed via Pakistan. For example, there is an access road at the North Wakhjir that connects to Karakoram Highway.

By expanding the road network from Taxkorgan in Xinjiang to Gilgit, using the Karakoram Highway is a probable option. Land routes in Pakistan are already being developed for better connectivity between Islamabad and Beijing as part of CPEC. These routes stretch from Gwadar up to the North.

The Motorway M-1, which runs from Islamabad to Peshawar can be used to link Afghanistan via Landi Kotal. Although the Karakoram highway also suffers from extreme weather and landslides, it is easier for engineers to handle as compared to those in Afghanistan.

China is the first door neighbor of Afghanistan having a common border. If anything happens in Afghanistan will have a direct impact on China. China has a declared policy of peaceful developments and has abandoned all disputes and adversaries for the time being and focused only on economic developments. For economic developments, social stability and security is a pre-requisite. So China emphasizes peace and stability in Afghanistan. It is China’s requirement that its border with Afghanistan should be secured, and restrict movements of any unwanted individuals or groups. China is compelled by any government in Afghanistan to ensure the safety of its borders in the region.

Taliban has ensured china that, its territory will not use against China and will never support any insurgency in China. Based on this confidence, China is cooperating with the Taliban in all possible manners. On the other hand, China is a responsible nation and obliged to extend humanitarian assistance to starving Afghans. While, the US is coercing and exerting pressures on the Taliban Government to collapse, by freezing their assets, and cutting all economic assistance, and lobbying with its Western allies, for exerting economic pressures on the Taliban, irrespective of human catastrophe in Afghanistan. China is generously assisting in saving human lives in Afghanistan. Whereas, the US is preferring politics over human lives in Afghanistan.

The US has destroyed Afghanistan during the last two decades, infrastructure was damaged completely, Agriculture was destroyed, Industry was destroyed, and the economy was a total disaster. While, China is assisting Afghanistan to rebuild its infrastructure, revive agriculture, industrialization is on its way. Chinese mega initiative, Belt and Road (BRI) is hope for Afghanistan.

A peaceful Afghanistan is a guarantee for peace and stability in China, especially in the bordering areas. The importance of Afghan peace is well conceived by China and practically, China is supporting peace and stability in Afghanistan. In fact, all the neighboring countries, and regional countries, are agreed upon by consensus that peace and stability in Afghanistan is a must and prerequisite for whole regions’ development and prosperity.

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Shared Territorial Concern, Opposition to US Intervention Prompt Russia’s Support to China on Taiwan Question

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image credit: kremlin.ru

The situation around the island of Taiwan is raising concerns not only in Chinese mainland, Taiwan island or in the US, but also in the whole world. Nobody would like to see a large-scale military clash between China and the US in the East Pacific. Potential repercussions of such a clash, even if it does not escalate to the nuclear level, might be catastrophic for the global economy and strategic stability, not to mention huge losses in blood and treasure for both sides in this conflict.

Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Moscow continued to firmly support Beijing’s position on Taiwan as an integral part of China. Moreover, he also underlined that Moscow would support Beijing in its legitimate efforts to reunite the breakaway province with the rest of the country. A number of foreign media outlets paid particular attention not to what Lavrov actually said, but omitted his other remarks: the Russian official did not add that Moscow expects reunification to be peaceful and gradual in a way that is similar to China’s repossession of Hong Kong. Many observers of the new Taiwan Straits crisis unfolding concluded that Lavrov’s statement was a clear signal to all parties of the crisis: Russia would likely back even Beijing’s military takeover of the island.

Of course, diplomacy is an art of ambiguity. Lavrov clearly did not call for a military solution to the Taiwan problem. Still, his remarks were more blunt and more supportive of Beijing than the standard Russia’s rhetoric on the issue. Why? One possible explanation is that the Russian official simply wanted to sound nice to China as Russia’s major strategic partner. As they say, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Another explanation is that Lavrov recalled the Russian experience with Chechnya some time ago, when Moscow had to fight two bloody wars to suppress secessionism in the North Caucasus. Territorial integrity means a lot for the Russian leadership. This is something that is worth spilling blood for.

However, one can also imagine that in Russia they simply do not believe that if things go really bad for Taiwan island, the US would dare to come to its rescue and that in the end of the day Taipei would have to yield to Beijing without a single shot fired. Therefore, the risks of a large-scale military conflict in the East Pacific are perceived as relatively low, no matter what apocalyptic scenarios various military experts might come up with.

Indeed, over last 10 or 15 years the US has developed a pretty nasty habit of inciting its friends and partners to take risky and even reckless decisions and of letting these friends and partners down, when the latter had to foot the bill for these decisions. In 2008, the Bush administration explicitly or implicitly encouraged Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili to launch a military operation against South Ossetia including killing some Russian peacekeepers stationed there. But when Russia interfered to stop and to roll back the Georgian offensive, unfortunate Saakashvili was de-facto abandoned by Washington.

During the Ukrainian conflicts of 2013-14, the Obama administration enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the legitimate president in Kiev. However, it later preferred to delegate the management of the crisis to Berlin and to Paris, abstaining from taking part in the Normandy process and from signing the Minsk Agreements. In 2019, President Donald Trump promised his full support to Juan Guaidó, Head of the National Assembly in Venezuela, in his crusade against President Nicolas when the government of Maduro demonstrated its spectacular resilience. Juan Guaido very soon almost completely disappeared from Washington’s political radar screens.

Earlier this year the Biden administration stated its firm commitment to shouldering President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan in his resistance to Taliban advancements. But when push came to shove, the US easily abandoned its local allies, evacuated its military personal in a rush and left President Ghani to seek political asylum in the United Arab Emirates.

Again and again, Washington gives reasons to conclude that its partners, clients and even allies can no longer consider it as a credible security provider. Would the US make an exception for the Taiwan island? Of course, one can argue that the Taiwan island is more important for the US than Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine and Georgia taken together. But the price for supporting the Taiwan island could also be much higher for the US than the price it would have paid in many other crisis situations. The chances of the US losing to China over Taiwan island, even if Washington mobilizes all of its available military power against Beijing, are also very high. Still, we do not see such a mobilization taking place now. It appears that the Biden administration is not ready for a real showdown with Beijing over the Taiwan question.

If the US does not put its whole weight behind the Taiwan island, the latter will have to seek some kind of accommodation with the mainland on terms abandoning its pipe-dreams of self-determination and independence. This is clear to politicians not only in East Asia, but all over the place, including Moscow. Therefore, Sergey Lavrov has reasons to firmly align himself with the Chinese position. The assumption in the Kremlin is that Uncle Sam will not dare to challenge militarily the Middle Kingdom. Not this time.

From our partner RIAC

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Russia-Japan Relations: Were Abe’s Efforts In Vain?

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Expanding the modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward.

One year after the end of Shinzo Abe’s long period of leadership, Japan has a new prime minister once again. The greatest foreign policy challenge the new Japanese government led by Fumio Kishida is facing is the intensifying confrontation between its large neighbor China and its main ally America. In addition to moves to energize the Quad group to which Japan belongs alongside Australia, India, and the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has concluded a deal with Canberra and London to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines which in future could patrol the Western Pacific close to Chinese shores. The geopolitical fault lines in the Indo-Pacific region are fast turning into frontlines.

In this context, does anything remain of the eight-year-long effort by former prime minister Abe to improve relations with Russia on the basis of greater economic engagement tailored to Moscow’s needs? Russia’s relations with China continue to develop, including in the military domain; Russia’s constitutional amendments passed last year prohibit the handover of Russian territory, which doesn’t bode well for the long-running territorial dispute with Japan over the South Kuril Islands; and Russian officials and state-run media have been remembering and condemning the Japanese military’s conduct during World War II, something they chose to play down in the past. True, Moscow has invited Tokyo to participate in economic projects on the South Kuril Islands, but on Russian terms and without an exclusive status.

To many, the answer to the above question is clear, and it is negative. Yet that attitude amounts to de facto resignation, a questionable approach. Despite the oft-cited but erroneous Cold War analogy, the present Sino-American confrontation has created two poles in the global system, but not—at least, not yet—two blocs. Again, despite the popular and equally incorrect interpretation, Moscow is not Beijing’s follower or vassal. As a power that is particularly sensitive about its own sovereignty, Russia seeks to maintain an equilibrium—which is not the same as equidistance—between its prime partner and its main adversary. Tokyo would do well to understand that and take it into account as it structures its foreign relations.

The territorial dispute with Russia is considered to be very important for the Japanese people, but it is more symbolic than substantive. In practical terms, the biggest achievement of the Abe era in Japan-Russia relations was the founding of a format for high-level security and foreign policy consultations between the two countries. With security issues topping the agenda in the Indo-Pacific, maintaining the channel for private direct exchanges with a neighboring great power that the “2+2” formula offers is of high value. Such a format is a trademark of Abe’s foreign policy which, while being loyal to Japan’s American ally, prided itself on pursuing Japanese national interests rather than solely relying on others to take them into account.

Kishida, who for five years served as Abe’s foreign minister, will now have a chance to put his own stamp on the country’s foreign policy. Yet it makes sense for him to build on the accomplishments of his predecessor, such as using the unique consultation mechanism mentioned above to address geopolitical and security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, from North Korea to Afghanistan. Even under Abe, Japan’s economic engagement with Russia was by no means charity. The Russian leadership’s recent initiatives to shift more resources to eastern Siberia offer new opportunities to Japanese companies, just like Russia’s early plans for energy transition in response to climate change, and the ongoing development projects in the Arctic. In September 2021, the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok did not feature top-level Japanese participation, but that should be an exception, not the rule.

Japan will remain a trusted ally of the United States for the foreseeable future. It is also safe to predict that at least in the medium term, and possibly longer, the Russo-Chinese partnership will continue to grow. That is no reason for Moscow and Tokyo to regard each other as adversaries, however. Moreover, since an armed conflict between America and China would spell a global calamity and have a high chance of turning nuclear, other major powers, including Russia and Japan, have a vital interest in preventing such a collision. Expanding the still very modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward. The absence of a peace treaty between the two countries more than seventy-five years after the end of the war is abnormal, yet that same unfinished business should serve as a stimulus to persevere. Giving up is an option, but not a good one.

From our partner RIAC

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