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Can Japan, Russia find a way for reconciliation?

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The relations between Japan and Russia have been strained by two reasons:  four islands between them known as Kuril islands and US pressure on Japan not go for any credible alignment with their “common” ideological foes. Russia and Japan did not sign a formal peace treaty at the end of World War Two because of a dispute over islands in the Western Pacific, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in Russia.

The islands were seized by Soviet forces at the end of World War Two and 17,000 Japanese residents were forced to flee. As no peace treaty was signed between Japan and Russia so far, the two countries are still technically at war.

The Kuril Islands stretch between the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido and Russia’s Kamchatka. The entire archipelago is currently administered by Russia, which received them after WWII under the 1945 Potsdam Declaration. Japan claims sovereignty over the two southernmost large islands of Iturup and Kunashir, as well as the Shikotan and Habomai islets, citing their history as Japan’s northern territories. Russia and Japan did not sign a peace treaty after WWII over the issue.

Moscow claims sovereignty over the islands based on the post-war agreement signed by the Allies in 1945. The pact stipulated the South Kurils became part of the USSR following the war which Japan lost.

Russia maintains that the Soviet Union’s sovereignty over the island was internationally recognized under the agreements signed after the WWII. While addressing the issue, President Putin stressed that signing a peace deal remains a priority for both countries despite “different views” on the matter. “We are united in one – the problem should be solved,” he said. Russian leader though noted that it should be done with full respect to the mutual interests.

Seventy years after the end of the Second World War, Russia and Japan have their eyes firmly on the rewards of peace as they negotiate a mutually beneficial solution to their dispute over the islands known in Tokyo as the Northern Territories and in Moscow as part of the Kurils.

Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit to Japan in December last year marked a major thawing in relations. He and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have pledged to increase economic co-operation and improve access to former residents of the islands as they seek a long-term arrangement.

Relations between Moscow and Tokyo suffered an additional blow after Japan joined the ranks of the states imposing sanctions on Russia following the Ukraine crisis. In a bid to improve ties, Japan’s PM visited the Russian city of Sochi in May, where he made proposals, including the establishing of joint infrastructure in Russia’s Far East.

As of 2016 matters remain unresolved, and these disputes have effectively soured relations between the two countries. According to a 2012 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey, 72% of Japanese people view Russia unfavorably, compared with 22% who viewed it favorably, making Japan the country with the most anti-Russian sentiment surveyed. Since 2017, relations between Russia and Japan have improved.

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Tension and improvement

Japan pursues a joint foreign policy along with NATO leader USA and in most issues Tokyo adopts the American approach as its own. This is the major reason why Russia and Japan have not been able forge strong ties as Washington opposes any link with the Kremlin.   

Russia and Japan have been unable to sign a peace treaty in order to realign the ties after World War II due to the Kuril Islands dispute. Over the past decades Tokyo repeatedly stressed that a peace treaty with Moscow is linked to handing back control of the territories.

The dispute has prevented the two parties from formally signing a peace treaty because Japan lays claim to four islands which became part of the Soviet Union when fighting ended in 1945. “Russia’s constructive engagement is essential in resolving global challenges,” Abe said. “Historically Russia has been a very important to Japan, and I think the situation is the same for Russia. It’s an important partner for stability in the Asia Pacific region,” Japan’s foreign press secretary Norio Maruyama told Euronews.

When Boris Yeltsin took power in Russia in late 1991 upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union, he took a stand in opposition to relinquishing the disputed territories to Japan. In September 1992, Russian president Yeltsin postponed a scheduled visit to Japan. The visit took place in October 1993. He made no further concessions on the Kuril Islands dispute over the four Kuril Islands (northeast of Hokkaido), a considerable obstacle to Japanese-Russian relations, but did agree to abide by the 1956 Soviet pledge to return Shikotan and the Habomai Islands to Japan. Yeltsin also apologized repeatedly for Soviet mistreatment of Japanese prisoners of war after World War II.

In March 1994, then Japanese minister of foreign affairs Hata Tsutomu visited Moscow and met with Russian minister of foreign affairs Andrei Kozyrev and other senior officials. The two sides agreed to seek a resolution over the persistent Kuril Islands dispute, but the decision of the dispute is not expected in the near future. Despite the territorial dispute, Hata offered some financial support to Russian market-oriented economic reforms, hoping for relative change in Russian attitude to the islands in Japan’s favor. In 1998, the newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Keizō Obuchi had focused on major issues: signing a peace treaty with Russia, and renewing the Japanese economy. However, he died soon afterwards.

On August 16, 2006, Russian maritime authorities killed a Japanese fisherman and captured a crab fishing boat in the waters around the disputed Kuril Islands. The Russian foreign ministry has claimed that the death was caused by a “stray bullet”. .On September 28, 2006, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia would “continue the dialogue with the new Japanese government. We will build our relations, how the peoples of the two countries want them to be.

The dispute over the Southern Kuril Islands deteriorated Russo-Japan relations when the Japanese government published a new guideline for school textbooks on July 16, 2008 to teach Japanese children that their country has sovereignty over the Kuril Islands. The Russian public was generally outraged by the action and demanded the government to counteract. The Foreign Minister of Russia announced on July 18, 2008 ” these actions contribute neither to the development of positive cooperation between the two countries, nor to the settlement of the dispute,” and reaffirmed its sovereignty over the islands.

In 2010, President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev became the first Russian president to take a state trip to the Kuril Islands. Medvedev shortly ordered significant reinforcements to the Russian defences on the Kuril Islands. Medvedev was replaced by Vladimir Putin in 2012. In November 2013, Japan held its first ever diplomatic talks with the Russian Federation, and the first with Moscow since the year 1973.

In recent years the relations got strained. In March 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Japan imposed several sanctions against Russia, which included halting consultations on easing the visa regulations between the two countries and suspension of talks on investment cooperation, joint space exploration and prevention of dangerous military activity, obviously annoying the Kremlin.

On 3 Sep, 2016 PM Abe called on President Putin to “take responsibility” to boost the bilateral ties, while talking to the Russian leader on the second and last day of a major economic forum in the Far Eastern Russian city of Vladivostok. “Let us overcome all difficulties and leave the people of the next generation a world in which our two countries will reveal their powerful potential. Let’s put an end to this abnormal situation, which lasted 70 years, and together launch a new era in Japanese-Russian relations,” Abe said.

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe said Japan wants to resolve a territorial row that has over-shadowed ties with Russia since World War Two. “A peace treaty between Japan and Russia has not been concluded yet, even after 70 years have passed since the end of World War Two,” Abe told reporters in London. “It is an extremely unusual situation. Infinite possibilities are latent in the cooperation between Japan and Russia.”

During the gathering in Vladivostok, President Putin and PM Abe agreed to once again meet on December 15 in Japan. Resolving the territorial dispute and boosting economic cooperation is set to top the agenda of the gathering, the territorial dispute, however, did not move forward even an inch after the visit.

The second meeting between Putin and the Japanese prime minister this year, and Putin’s first visit to a Group of Seven nation since top Western powers and Japan slapped sanctions on Russia over the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The sense that something extraordinary might be in the air was boosted by reports in the Japanese media that the USA had repeatedly urged Abe not to meet with Putin, but the objections had been “brushed off” by Tokyo. “People are seeing this meeting as a possible breakthrough, but we see it as the beginning of an important new process,” says Sergei Markov, a past adviser to Putin. “Japan seems willing to change its direction and renew its relations with Moscow and we welcome that. But solving the territorial issue is not a simple matter; it might take decades.”

Expectation

Many experts believe that, for the first time since at least 1956, there could be an opportunity to formally end World War II between Russia and Japan, solve a long-running territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands, and through that new political relationship finally unlock a flood of Japanese investment into Russia’s undeveloped far eastern region.

Expectations have grown that Putin and Abe might formally end World War II animosity between Russia and Japan during their meeting, but the Kremlin warned that any progress in the ties is unlikely. Still, Russians see great opportunity to be had. The Kremlin is furiously tamping down expectations for the unusual summit meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a hot springs resort near Abe’s home town of Nagato. That’s not surprising, since the hopes that have been aroused are nothing short of breathtaking.

Political economy

Though the two restored diplomatic ties long ago, the spat has prevented the conclusion of a formal peace treaty and has been cited by successive Japanese governments as a reason not to enter into major economic cooperation with Russia.

The outlines of a compromise were reached soon after World War two in 1956 following the demise of Joseph Stalin, under which the then-Soviet government would relinquish the two southernmost islands in return for a peace treaty and normalization of relations with Japan. That deal was reportedly scuttled by pressure from Washington, which threatened to keep control over Okinawa if Japan went ahead with the exchange. After that the dispute hardened, and has become a staple rallying cry for nationalists in both Russia and Japan.

The economic relations between the NATO member and anti-NATO Russia have been very nominal. Although Japan joined with the Group of Seven industrialized nations in contributing some technical and financial assistance to Russia, relations between Tokyo and Moscow remained poor.

Russia and China for a long time long had tension over disputed territories. But Russia made up with its neighbor China by surrendering it the disputed territories. Possibly Japan also expects similar positive gesture form the Kremlin but does not want to come out of US clutches and the NATO that target Russia. Worse, Japan, on instructions from USA, slapped sanctions on Russia over Crimea issue. This cannot make Moscow happy.

Trade between Moscow and Tokyo has quadrupled since 2006. In 2013 trade between our countries reached a record-high [$34.8 billion. In 2015 the volume dropped by almost 40 percent due to falling oil prices, Trade turnover between Russia and Japan grew by 25 percent compared to last year in the first quarter of 2017, owing to the development of the political and economic cooperation. The export of food products, textile, rubber goods and cellulose products from Russia is actively developing. The volume of export to Russia increased by 14 percent, the supplies of the Russian goods to Japan grew, the growth stood at 29 percent. The investment attractiveness of Russia has increased because the Russian economy “set the course toward the recovery from the two-year-long decline

At a time when the return of even the two islands of Shikotan and Habomai appears hopeless, the fact that methods of travel for former residents of the islands have expanded, making it easier for them to visit the islands, is in itself welcome, even as they remain deeply resentful that no mention at all has been made of the return of the territories. On the other hand, they view the progress of joint economic activities with caution, for if these proceed, they will complicate requests for compensation in respect of assets left behind on the islands.

Meetings between Japanese and Russian diplomats are often accompanied by promises of large Japanese investment in Russia. The Putin-Abe summit in December 2016 was no different. Japan believes that investing in Russia demonstrates tangible benefits that could accompany improved relations between the two countries.[4] Russia is happy to accept foreign investment.  Russia is looking for Japanese investment in the Far East, while Japan hopes to recover the territories lost after WWII. However, Russia has repeatedly rebuffed Japanese claims. 

Main factors that limit the prospects of economic ties between Japan and Russia include, first, foreign investors of all nationalities find Russia a difficult place to do business, few attractive investment opportunities and Russian business is mired in corruption and red tape. .The Japanese government refuses to convince Japanese firms that Russia is an attractive place to invest. In fact,  the government does not promote  that at all. The Russian Far East is not economically important to Moscow, and infrastructure lags behind that of Russia’s most developed regions. Even if Japanese firms decided to significantly increase investment, there is no reason to think this would change the Kremlin’s political calculations that drive diplomacy with Tokyo.

Meanwhile, the development of the Nemuro region, which adjoins the Northern Territories, had been hampered by prohibitions on business and free travel between Nemuro and the islands. So joint economic activities that involve doing business with the islands, no matter what form they take, are much anticipated.

The two Asian neighbors agreed to jointly invest $1 billion in Japanese development of the Russian economy, along with other commercial ventures by Japanese firms. And the surviving former Japanese residents of the islands, who were forced to leave after the Soviet invasion, might be able to visit their ancestors’ graves.

Though the purpose of meetings is to explore ways that economic cooperation can be strengthened through a “special system” that would not undermine either side’s legal claim on the islands, there is skepticism in Russia about how benign Japan’s intentions truly are.

Moscow and Tokyo are currently working on creating a ‘green corridor’ to simplify customs procedures and boost trade.  Japan talked about joint Russia-Japan energy projects Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2, and Russia’s crude oil supplies to the country.

Japanese companies have invested and operate in the Russian automobile and construction industries. About 14 percent of all Russian cars are produced in Russian factories by Japanese manufacturers. Imports of Japanese cars and industrial machinery have been significantly reduced as a result of Western sanctions against Russia. Japanese banks have problems providing export credit for equipment sold to Russia, while sanctions make it difficult to conduct business using US dollar transactions.

In 2014 Japan followed US sanctions with 23 visa bans on Russian citizens, including government officials. Russian ambassador to Japan Evgeny Afanasiev said the investment attractiveness of Russia has increased because the Russian economy set the course toward the recovery from the two-year-long decline

Russia in Asia

Major territories of Russia lie in European continent. Though it hates USA and American superiority manners Russia looks to European culture and civilization and is eager to join it.

Russia’s main foreign policy aims remain largely focused on its Western front — in Eastern Europe, in the Black Sea, and increasingly in the Middle East. Russia’s political elite keeps its money in Europe, educates its children in Europe, vacations in Europe, and assesses its geopolitical stature in relation to the USA.

For decades Moscow has been working to make its foreign policy goals West focused and it uses Asian links only to increase Russia’s leverage in negotiations with the West. With China, Russia is showcasing a strong alliance that can withstand any pressure tactics of USA and Europe. Russia has strengthened diplomatic, military, and energy ties with China. But the Kremlin has done so not because it is interested in Asia per se, but rather because it wants to show Western powers that it has other diplomatic options.

Thus Asia is not Russia’s priority but the West is to achieve that goal Russia is using all possibilities in Asia, China being the major Asian power. .

A significant strain in Russian foreign policy thinking interprets US alliances less as agreements between equal sovereign countries, and more as command-and-control relationships, with dictates coming from Washington. Russian foreign policy circles do not view Japan as an independent actor due to its security relationship with the USA.

The Kremlin places relatively little emphasis on its foreign policy in Asia. Many Russians believe that Japan’s security alliance with the USA means that Tokyo is not a fully independent diplomatic actor. Both factors mean that Moscow is not prepared to spend significant diplomatic energy or political capital in developing relations with Japan.

While Russian leaders regularly attend summits in the West, they often skip key meetings in Asia.[2] Moscow devotes far more resources to managing its relations with the West. That leaves little time for Tokyo

The perception in Moscow that Japan cannot make independent decisions reduces Russia’s willingness to spend political capital improving relations. Combined with the Kremlin’s general lack of focus on Asia, this means that Japan plays only a minor role in Russia’s foreign policy agenda.

Sino-Russian bilateral trade in the first ten months of 2015 touched $55.9 billion, a fall of 29 percent from the same period a year ago. From January to October 2015, China’s exports to Russia stood at $28.46 billion, a fall of 35.7 percent from a year ago, while Imports from Russia fell by 20.7 percent and stood at $27.45 billion.

 Japan wants improved ties with Russia today to hedge against China. But for Russia, the most urgent priority is good ties with China to hedge against Washington. For Tokyo, a key rationale for improving relations with Russia is the rise of China and Tokyo wants to reduce the importance of Russian links with Japan. . China’s power is increasing, and Russia is currently aligned with China on many questions of Asian politics and security. Improving economic ties between Russia and Japan would make Russia less dependent on China, thereby weakening Beijing’s position. From Japan’s perspective, the goal is not to forge an alliance with Russia but to ensure that Russia is not forced into a de facto alliance with China because Moscow lacks other partners in the Asia-Pacific region.

 The specifics of Tokyo’s defense build up make Russia worried. For example, Japan sees missile defense investment as crucial to mounting an effective defense against North Korean missiles. But Russia interprets Japanese investments in this sphere — which take place in close cooperation with the USA — as potentially part of US efforts to strengthen anti-missile capabilities along Russia’s border.

USA does not want any real improvement in Russo-Japan relations that would result in Tokyo relinquishing its ties with Washington which could spell disaster for NATO as well. USA has gone for punishing the Kremlin in a big way, though that would not make any real impact on Russian economy.

Little progress

The main reason why Japan could not achieve a peace treaty and resolution of territorial disputes with Russia obviously is the superpower- the Uncle Sam. USA doesn’t want to lose the Asian economic power Japan to Russia as that would weaken NATO terror operations across the globe. Washington is keeping a close eye on any developments in Japan-Russia relations, of course. 

The purpose of the April 24 teleconference between Abe and President Donald Trump was to keep the USA in the loop. What really was the outcome of the Abe-Putin summit talks on April 27?  Following the “success” of the Japan-Russia summit in December last year, the stated purpose of the visit was to move forward with the agreement reached at that summit, toward a resolution of the Kuril Islands (Northern Territories) issue, involving the question of disputed islands off the coast of Hokkaido.

Regarding the issue of visits to ancestral graves, former islanders will be transported by air on Russian chartered aircraft from Nemuro Nakashibetsu to Kunashiri and Etorofu. In addition, a new checkpoint will be opened to facilitate entry to the Habomai islets, an area that was previously difficult to access directly. On the issue of joint economic activities, a Japanese-Russian investigative group will be organized to conduct an on-site survey. Abe emphasizes that nothing is new. Air travel to the islands was in operation at one point in 2000. It was also possible to access the Habomai islets in the past.  Visits to ancestors’ graves by chartered aircraft are referred to as “special visits to ancestors’ graves,” and may be granted for a single visit only. No progress was made on the Kuril Islands issue itself. Putin spoke at length about the economy, making only brief reference to the “peace treaty” toward the end, which he said should be in a form that was advantageous for both countries. Abe too, as before, emphasized his accomplishments, praising himself for them, , with no mention whatsoever of the territorial issue..

During a bilateral summit meeting in Moscow on April 27, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to make concrete progress toward deepening trust, resolving the issue of the disputed Northern Territories – the Kuril Islands – and concluding a peace treaty. Japan and Russia agreed that a joint public-private survey mission would be sent to the Northern Territories as early as May to research how the two countries can pursue economic cooperation. Areas of research for potential cooperation include fish and sea urchin farming and ecotourism. This step is in line with Abe and Putin’s December agreement to launch talks on joint activities on the islands.

In addition to the Ukraine issue, which necessitated the imposition of sanctions on Russia by the Group of Seven powers, Japan and Russia now differ on other issues that previously posed relatively few conflicts, most notably North Korea and Syria. On the latter, Japan had no option but to support the US strike on Syria; and as for the former, Russia has blocked Washington’s call for action, adopting a stance that emphasizes a peaceful resolution of the North Korean issue.

Going forward, Japan has no choice but to continue to support the US stance, so the recent tensions in US-Russian relations will cast a dark cloud over improved relations with Russia. And given recent revelations, there is a high likelihood that relations between the United States and Russia will only become more complicated, and pressure on Japan will increase. Abe’s attempts to achieve better relations with Russia with no regard for how his actions may appear are now looking increasingly risky.

Relations between Tokyo and Beijing are very tense these days. Japan basically tries to go everywhere that China goes – Africa, Latin America – to try and counter Chinese influence. The growing closeness between Russia and China is of the utmost concern to the Japanese, so there is an obvious effort under way to offset that.

The Russian media is heralding more than 60 intergovernmental and commercial agreements set to be signed during the visit. But most of those appear to be “memorandums of understanding” – vague commitments to do something in future rather than finished plans. And it’s hard to see how Russia’s Far East, with its difficult investment climate and scanty infrastructure, could rapidly absorb any big inflow of capital.

Nevertheless, most experts say the core issues of territorial compromise and a peace treaty have remained elusive and all results so far are only in the form of a “face-saving declaration” at the end of summits. Public opinion in Russia is solidly opposed to exchanging any Kuril Islands for a peace treaty with Japan, a view expressed by 78 percent of Russians in a recent poll by the independent Levada Center in Moscow. Polls suggest Japanese public opinion is more open to a deal, but that growing numbers expect Russia to return all four Kuril Islands rather than just the two Moscow would be willing to discuss.

Russian foreign policy experts caution against any breakthroughs at the summits even amid a rapidly changing world picture. “Putin is at the height of his power and popularity, and he has a lot of political capital to spend”. US-Russia relations are expected to produce a thaw during the Trump rein.

Is a Russia-Japan ‘reset’ possible?

At a meeting in December Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and Russian President Putin agreed to take steps that might someday help resolve a 71-year dispute over a string of islands. They agreed to explore joint economic projects on the islands under a possible “special” legal framework that would, in the words of Abe, not “infringe on the sovereignty positions of either side.”

From the press conference Abe held with Russian President Vladimir Putin it is clear that, as with the summit in December, no progress was made on the Kuril Islands (Northern Territories) issue itself. The phrase “resolution of the territories issue” was not used once at the press conference.

Several territorial disputes between the neighboring countries generally take similar position, except India and Pakistan because they occupy another nation – Jammu Kashmir – over which both claim disputes. In many countries, a popular reaction to globalization has led to the election of leaders – such as in the USA – with a strong passion for nationalism. These leaders often demand greater sovereignty over the economy or, in some cases, territory. To cool these passions and prevent conflict, nations tend to find a common purpose. A good example was a recent summit between Japan and Russia.

Nationalists in both countries, which include Putin and Abe, insist on sovereignty over the islands. And after Putin took Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, he may have little inclination to give land to Japan. Yet both men, for strategic reasons, see advantages in working together on economic goals as they keep talking about ownership and control of the islands. Even the deepest gulf can look less worrisome if spanned by at least one bridge.

The nub of the dispute is four tiny islands off the northern tip of Japan that the USSR seized and annexed in the closing days of World War II. Russia refers to them as the “southern Kurils” while Japanese call them their “northern territories.”

What is new and different right now is that Abe has reversed the policy of previous Japanese governments, and allowed that economic cooperation could come before a resolution of the territorial dispute. For Abe, whose previous attempt to forge an opening with Russia was derailed when the West imposed sanctions against Russia after its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, it’s really important to use this window of opportunity now that the new government by Donald Trump assumed power at White House, to get some progress. The ideas about the changing Asia Pacific do not seem worked-out by the new Trump regime at all.

For Putin it’s a chance to demonstrate, by courting a G-7 country, that Russia is not isolated. The visit sent a strong message, not only to the West but also to China, that Moscow has other options. Japan may also be using the situation to send its own signal to China, which has enjoyed a fast-growing relationship with Russia amid the recent East-West tensions, that Moscow’s allegiance cannot be taken for granted.

Even if the spigot opens and Japanese investment is freed to invest in Russia, the potential is hard to gauge.

Observation

Russo-Japanese relations cannot be expected to improve tangibly unless Japan amends its policy of blindly following the US dictates and begin formulates its independent external policy. Otherwise, all economic invocations by trade etc would only keep the tensions under check. Keeping the vital territorial issue at bay would not help them stabilize the ties and end mutual tensions. Moscow expects a genuine change of mind in Tokyo and not just extending few carets – after all, Russia is not a third world country. 

Japan’s policy toward Russia highlights how difficult it is for Japan to have a foreign policy independent of the US preferences. Whenever progress is made in the Japan-Russia relationship, a black swan event, such as the Russian annexation of Crimea or the US cruise missile strike on Syria, threatens to undo it all.

Abe dreams of concluding the peace treaty that eluded his father needs to have his work cut out for him trying to balance demands from Washington and Moscow. Towing the US line for everything will not do any good in improving the ties with Moscow. .

Following the bilateral summit, Abe and Putin both called on North Korea and other countries to avoid behavior or rhetoric that could increase tensions around Pyongyang’s nuclear program and stated they had agreed to closely cooperate to try to help defuse tensions. Maybe, they have done it under US direction. The joint military exercises  near Guam involving Japanese, USA, French, and British forces are a sign of how Japan’s defense relationship with European partners can become institutionalized – a partnership that had long been seen as “exotic” and difficult to materialize.

As the Russo-Japanese territorial disputes do not look resolvable with each sticking to their own positions without any relaxation, Russia and Japan seem to have agreed on a move toward resolving a territorial dispute by first focusing on a common goal: joint development of the islands.  If it works, the agreement may be a model for similar disputes in Asia.

Several of Asia’s many island disputes have led to joint development of resources as a way to avoid direct confrontation over territory or to create political conditions for an eventual settlement. The Japan-Russia deal could become another model. The proposed joint development will bring the two peoples closer together, said Mr. Putin, and “help foster trust toward a peace treaty.”

That last point is critical. Moscow and Tokyo have never formally ended hostilities from World War II. And toward the end of the war, the then-Soviet Union took over the islands, which were long held by Japan. Among the Japanese, they are known as the Northern Territories. To Russians, they are the Southern Kurils.

Japan needs to kick the United States military out of its country. World War 2 ended a long time ago, time for the Americans to move along. Japan should have to look after itself now. The Japanese have not forgotten the rapes of their local women committed by the US military bases there as well as the trouble they are causing for the local communities.

The UK needs Russia after it leaves the EU as the goal all along for the European Union has been to form a superstate. It won’t be surprising if the UK and Russia would have a joint Naval exercise in UK waters

Russia is seen returning to Asia with stronger bonds with China, and improving relations with Japan are certainly on the agenda. Maybe no big surprises in the form of dramatic positives will emerge, but some kind of movement for sure.

Moscow and Tokyo are discussing the possibility of organizing cruises around the South Kuril Islands, the Kyodo news agency reports quoting diplomatic sources. This is a part of a plan to develop business links in the disputed territories.

Following the visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Japan in December last year, Moscow and Tokyo agreed to start joint economic activities on the islands. Putin will meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Vladivostok in September to continue the discussions. The countries plan to develop fishing, tourism, healthcare and ecology in the region.

For now, there is nothing to indicate how Abe’s key initiatives will subsequently unfold. Even if all the latest plans materialize, there is no guarantee they will be sustainable, and even if they are, it is doubtful that they will lead to the resolution of the Territories’ issue. Leaving aside the question of the future, it can be considered as a kind of gambit by Japanese government to show the public that things are now moving. The prospect of significantly expanded economic relations between the two countries is limited.

As a result of the tension between the economic giants the people living in the region feel being besieged by these powers.

Don’t they deserve a usual, if not honorable, life at all?

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East Asia

Twists and Turns in US -China Trade War

Gen. Shashi Asthana

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s stopover at Beijing on 08 October may not have been a pleasant experience, more so in the backdrop of accusation of US Vice President Pence about  China attempting to interfere in U.S. elections. The agenda of North Korean denuclearisation, where US and China were broadly agreeing earlier, seems to have taken a back seat, and improvement of relations doesn’t seem to be realistic in near future. The ongoing trade war continues as both sides dig their heels despite being the biggest trading partners of each other, because it is also linked with global dominance, strategic and military posturing, diplomatic and information offensive.

 China Braving Threat to its Vulnerabilities

China is putting a brave front despite being badly hit at some of its most vulnerable spots in the tit-for-tat trade war with both sides spiralling the slapping of tariffs on a wide range of each others’ trade items. Taiwan, which is another sensitivity of Beijing is witnessing visit of US officials after Taiwan Travel Act was signed by President Trump, with a promise to arm it further with latest weaponry. US continued military posturing in South China Sea, along with the appearance of UK warship ignoring Chinese repeated warning is another concern.   A recent injection of over $110 billion by China into its banks and hardly any financial benefits coming out of BRI partners incapable to repay anything is tightening its financial freedom for global dominance. Some of its BRI partners want to get out of the ‘Debt Trap’ by refusing/reducing Chinese investments is adversely affecting Chinese dream project (BRI), after five years of its announcement like Philippines.

Not a Smooth Sail for US

US on the other hand cannot be celebrating either, with China digging it heals and refusing to give up either in trade war or South China Sea. On North Korean front, the policy of good optics continues with Kim managing to get a lot of goodies from South Korea (presumably at their cost), during the last summit of North and South Korea. Kim in fact has been an outright winner, managing to get another Summit with President Trump, which helps him in convincing his countrymen of his sound leadership, as well as boosting his status internationally. US sanctions on paper continue, but after the chest thumping at Singapore Summit, his friends like China automatically relaxed the sanctions on North Korea, without any worthwhile denuclearisation/reduction in his nuclear/missile arsenal. US realises that knocking out China financially is the key to its global dominance; hence is unlikely to soften up to China. US also faces another challenge of keeping its allies like Japan and South Korea satisfied while negotiating with North Korea and asking ASEAN to make choices of partners, besides continuing with CAATSA hurting some of its strategic partners who could be helpful in balancing China.

It will take some time to see that whoever has greater resilience to withstand the economic stand-off and appetite to take setbacks will have an upper edge, which seems to be US at this point of time. As per IMF assessment, China’s GDP size will be 1.6 per cent lower in 2019 than it otherwise would be, if the US slaps tariffs on all Chinese imports.

How is India affected?

The Indian economy has survived some global slowdowns earlier and should be able to sail through the present one. The bigger problem is the sanction under CAATSA in dealing with Russia for urgently needed military hardware like S-400 and Iran for cheaper crude oil being paid in rupee terms, for which India has adequate refineries. The US option of buying shale oil does not suit India as it does not have adequate refineries and will have to purchase finished product in dollar terms. The port of Chabahar is also crucial for India for connectivity to Afghanistan and CAR. The silver lining is that US being our strategic partner will like to have well equipped Indian Forces to balance China and Indian connectivity to Afghanistan, in case Pakistan does not serve their strategic interest. On both counts I am hopeful that US will find a way out not to hurt its strategic partner.

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The talks held in September 2018 between Kim Jong-Un and Moon Jae-In

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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In less than one year three meetings have been held between the North Korean Leader and the South Korean President, Moon Jae-In.

In the initial meeting the two leaders had decided to put an end to the state of war between their two countries. They had also reaffirmed the goal of denuclearization of the entire peninsula, with the consequent destruction of the nuclear potential of South Korea and of the United States, in particular. They also decided to create an inter-Korean Liason Office between the two sides of the Demilitarized Zone and to bring together the families dispersed between the two Koreas. Finally, the idea was to create new communication infrastructure – railway lines, in particular – a project by which Russia has always set great store.

Indeed, Russia is betting many of its cards on a reunification between the two Koreas, capable of enabling it to keep its excellent relations with South Korea – which are essential for the economy – and to also support North Korea, which is Russia’s unavoidable strategic goal.

Now the two Koreas are dealing on their own, without the US brokerage and intermediation with respect to South Korea, although President Donald J. Trump has recently stated that President Moon Jae-In is his official “delegate” for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

The United States is scarcely interested in the internationalization of the North Korean economy. It only wants denuclearization, while Kim Jong-Un wants denuclearization to develop his country’s economy and maintain its geopolitical and national autonomy.

A serious problem – both in talks and in the final or working documents – is also to define an effective mechanism to check denuclearization.

Indeed, between September 17 and 19, 2018, the signing of the Joint Declaration of Pyongyang has not fully clarified the mechanism of checks on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Kim Jong-Un’s idea is to organise these checks with a series of “experts” appointed by the friendly powers, while the South Korean idea is to accept the maximum possible denuclearization to start the long process of reunification.

The two respective Defence Ministers, however -namely Song Young Moo for South Korea and Rho Kwang Chul for North Korea – have just signed a separate document from the rest of agreements.

In that text confidence-building measures between the parties are put first, with North Korea’s acceptance of dismantling a launch pad and a site for checking jet engines, with the presence of yet unspecified, but friendly international experts. From IAEA? We have some doubts, in this case.

Subsequently North Korea could also dismantle the Nongbyon site, if the United States does the same in South Korea.

It should also be recalled that most North Korean missiles are built to be launched by mobile vehicles, not from fixed bases.

In short, North Korea wants the United States to remove the nuclear umbrella protecting South Korea and Japan while, in the recent talks with North Korea, the United States thinks of a bilateral treaty regarding only the Korean peninsula and, at most, some classes of North Korean missiles.

In the US mind, the planned reduction of North Korean long-range missiles could be even equivalent to a nuclear and conventional decrease of its troops stationed in Guam.

On the basis of a new future agreement, both Koreas (and God only knows how and to what extent the North Korean conventional military potential would be useful for a South Korea unified with North Korea) would also define maritime and land buffer zones, as well as a no-fly zone over the old border, with a view to avoiding clashes or accidental air battles.

This is already partially clear, but much work shall be done to define all the details.

There would also be plans to cover or reduce artillery batteries along the coast.

Obviously, should these talks run aground, the only concrete political result would be the progressive divergence between South Korea and the United States, precisely on the problem of the peninsula’s denuclearization.

Furthermore, over and above the aforementioned sites, North Korea will dismantle the site of Dongchang-ri, in addition to the site of Yongbyon, while Kim Jong-Un is also very interested in the building of fast railway links between South and North Korea.

The two Koreas will get the industrial site of Kaesong back in shape and the old tourist project concerning Mount Kumgang back in track, besides planning new joint economic and tourist areas.

The inter-Korean agreement regards also collaboration for medical and environmental issues, as well as for the protection from epidemics.

In other words, both Koreas think of an economy of compensation between them, which could also develop at a later stage and become a need for the development of both countries.

An economic-political symbiosis that could get the United States out of play and later reinstate Russia, which is increasingly interested in the South Korean economy, as well as finally favour China, which has no intention of leaving the Korean peninsula to the hegemony of North Korea alone.

At the end of the Treaty, there is also the project of a joint participation in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and a joint candidature for the 2032 Olympics.

A few days ago, North Korea also expressed its intention to join the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – a sign that the internationalization of the North Korean economy is now a certainty.

Hence it is a de facto peace treaty between the two Koreas.

If North Korea continues along this line, it is very likely that South Korea will gain a tactical advantage over the sea while, if the relations between South Korea and the United States remain as they currently are, there should be no significant changes in bilateral relations between the USA and South Korea.

However, what is the current state of relations between the United States and North Korea?

In fact, while the inter-Korean relations are all in the framework of effective confidence-building measures, the clear purpose of the fourth round of talks between the two Korean leaders is to preserve a strong US engagement in the whole negotiation process.

Kim Jong-Un wants to engage the United States for his global economic projection and he certainly does not want to remain tied to a regional economy, albeit open and “reformed” according to China’s rules.

For North Korea, the procedure is simple: at first, bilateral talks with the US support for South Korea; later peace between the two Koreas and finally what is only interesting for the USA, namely denuclearization.

It is not even unlikely that the United States does not accept this timing, but it is also unlikely that it realizes the strategic and economic aspects of this timing.

North Korea wants a fundamental agreement with South Korea because: a) it is an unavoidable asset for the modernization of its economy; b) it is the fundamental strategic factor to have the support of both Russia and China, who want to avoid North Korea’s hegemony over the peninsula, but also want to keep it as a rampart for US forces in South Korea; c) it is only through South Korea that North Korea will eventually be in a position to be connected to the Chinese maritime economic and strategic system and reach up to the Mediterranean.

In fact, if the relations between the United States and North Korea improve further, the site of Yongbyon could be dismantled definitively.

Hence currently Kim Jong-Un wants to thoroughly test the US goodwill, rather than South Korea’s goodwill, in developing a long or very long-term peace policy.

In Kim Jong-Un’s mind, there is in fact a key factor: the US behaviour in the phase in which Muammar Gaddafi accepted its proposal to dismantle his nuclear project.

Kim Jong-Un thinks that not even the story of Saddam Hussein is a guarantee for the US long-term reliability and for the stability of its leaders’ word of honour.

This is the real important factor in the strategy of the North Korean Leader.

Moreover, the US immediate reactions to the last meeting between the two Korean leaders have been fast and positive, both by President Trump and by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

And North Korea’s autonomous foreign policy has been seen also recently, with the 70th Anniversary military parade.

North Korea’s military parade and its important national celebration, was attended by Li Zhansu, ranking third in the internal power hierarchy of the Communist Party of China (CPC); by Valentina Matviyenko, President of the Russian Federal Council, the third elected office in the Russian Federation; by a very significant figure, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, President of Mauritania, and finally by Hilal al Hilal, deputy-General Secretary of the Syrian Baath Party.

With peace, North Korea will significantly develop its already multiple economic and political relations with Africa, which will be essential for its new economic development.

At the military parade staged on September 9, there were also authorities from Iran, South Africa and Singapore – which is the never forgotten model of the Chinese “Four Modernizations” -as well as other 60 delegations from “friendly” countries.

At economic level, in August, shortly before the big military parade of the 70th Anniversary, there was the International Fair of Razon, which hosted as many as 114 companies of which 52 North Korean ones.

The North Korean product lines mainly included pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, textiles, electronics and cosmetics.

However, there were many Chinese large companies selling their products in North Korea despite the UN sanctions.

As from September 17, there was also the Autumn Fair which brought together 320 commercial companies from Russia, New Zealand, Australia and China.

This is in fact the new paradigm of North Korea’s foreign policy.

The dollar has also grown in the exchanges with the North Korean currency, both on the official and on the “parallel” markets.

If all goes well at geopolitical level, the North Korean project will be to further improve its light industry, in addition to the diversification and quantity of products, with a view to trying its own autonomous way on the market world, as was the way of the nuclear system.

It should be recalled that this was also Kim Il-Sung’s project.

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East Asia

China’s Imprint underneath the Pyongyang Joint Declaration

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On September 18, the leaders of two Koreas met each other in Pyongyang, the capital of the DPRK. The world media focused on the meeting during which the two sides issued the “Pyongyang Joint Declaration”. If we see the Panmunjom Declaration serving as the cornerstone of the dialogue between two Korea, it is necessary to say that this joint declaration took a substantial step to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula that is vital to the regional peace and beyond.

Literally speaking, the Pyongyang joint declaration highlighted the key issues as follows. First, both sides are determined to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Second, they will work together to improve their relations with a view to the existing state of war, as the defense chiefs from the DPRK and ROK earlier signed a comprehensive agreement aiming to reduce tensions on the peninsula. Third, they will promote the peace talk process of the Korean peninsula. Given that Kim pledged to work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”, it would be seen as a political declaration that would mark a starting point for peace negotiations. If all goes well, a peace treaty would be sealed and then comes normalization of DPRK-US relations after it achieves complete denuclearization.

As a close neighbor to the Korean Peninsula, China always supports the DPRK and ROK as well in improving their relations through dialogue and consultation and promoting reconciliation and cooperation. This is the consistent and persistent position of Beijing, which has been playing a responsible role in politically resolving the Korean Peninsula issue and achieving the long-standing peace of the region.

In effect, prior to the leaders of two Korea met each other this week in Pyongyang, they have closely contacted their respective allies or strategic partners. Among them is China, dealing with both sides – Pyongyang and Seoul – in a unique way. It is true that China is the largest trading partner of the ROK while it is equally the only legal ally of the DPRK as well as its largest ideological partner now. If we review the bilateral relations between China and North Korea since last March, Kim Jr. has paid three significant, though unofficial, visits to President Xi of China. For example, during his March 25-28 visit, both sides vowed to continue their traditional solidarity in terms of their shared ideologies and common strategic interests. Xi especially proposed to strengthen the close ties between the two ruling parties. As he said to Kim, “party-to-party and state-to-state relations are the common treasure to both sides. And safeguarding, consolidating and developing China – DPRK relations are unswerving guidelines for China’s foreign policy and security strategy.

During his second meeting with Xi in Dalian summer resort, Kim vowed to terminate all the nuclear tests and to follow denuclearization if the United States took corresponding measures with good wishes. Then following his meeting with Trump in Singapore on June 12, Kim came to Beijing again on 19 to meet his Chinese counterpart. Xi confirmed China’s “3-no change” policy towards the DPRK, that is, political solidarity between the two parties remains unchanged, the friendship between the two peoples remains unchanged, and China’s support of a socialist Korea remains unchanged. Essentially, they serve as the foundation of the strategic consensus between Beijing and Pyongyang. In return, Kim reiterated his permanent shutdown of all nuclear tests and facilities if the US would respond sincerely and responsibly.

Given all the analysis above, it is understandable to conclude that China’s long-standing adherence to the goal of denuclearization of the Peninsula through dialogue and consultation is fully reflected in the Pyongyang Declaration. Meanwhile, China’s stance remains evident since it claims that the Korean issue must be resolved eventually by the Korean people rather than any external power. Therefore, peace not force is the only acceptable way. Also, as China and Russia have repeated that no coercive change of the regime by outside power is tolerated, North Korea can be confident and comfortable to proceed the permanent shutdown of the missile engine test site with international experts observing; and then a complete denuclearization is not too far in the future.

Here is necessary to argue that China has never claimed to play an exclusive role in the Korean Peninsula. Instead of that, China has always encouraged the DPRK to talk to the United States and other relevant parties. Since Kim has agreed to make a trip to Seoul for further talks and to meet the US high-ranking officials in Pyongyang soon, the summit between Kim and Moon marks a leap forward toward peace.

Yet, as the lessons in history show, it is better to approach realistically the Korean issue simply because it has involved too complicated concerns and memories and the overlapped interests. Therefore, we should be ready to accept trial and challenges lying ahead. China has insisted on diplomacy which means that all parties concerned should be brought to the negotiating table under the mandate of the UN Security Council.

Now, Beijing has navigated the course of denuclearization proactively to protect two sides’ common core security stakes when Kim reportedly promised to give up his nuclear program if the United States and South Korea respond to his proposal with good will. Due to this reason, China will do what it can to help ensure “no change of regime by force and denuclearization at the same time in the Korean Peninsula”. This is China’s influence or Beijing’s imprint on the Korean denuclearization issue and the regional peace.

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