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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

High time for India to Reconsider the One-China Policy

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Sino-Indian bilateral relations have seen major challenges in the recent years, beginning with the Doklam crisis to the current pandemic situation. The sugar-coated rhetoric of Beijing proved to be mere duplicity after tensions erupted along the Line of Actual Control where soldiers of both the states clashed in mid-2020, resulting in the martyrdom of several Indian jawans including a commanding officer. The other side also saw several casualties, though Beijing has kept the actual count under wraps. More recently, China suspended the state-run Sichuan Airlines cargo planes carrying medical supplies to India for 15 days citing the deteriorating situation in India due to COVID-19. This was after the Chinese government promised all the necessary help for India to battle the pandemic. 

The People’s Republic of China under the leadership of Xi Jinping has been maintaining an aggressive posture with India even while making calls for ‘maintaining peace’. Its support for all-weather friend Pakistan has attained new peaks when it proclaimed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under the Belt and Road Initiative passing through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, a territory claimed by India, despite New Delhi’s staunch opposition. It is in the light of all these events that the calls of the strategic community in India to review the recognition of One China policy has gained some attention. 

India’s Sensitivity versus China’s Duplicity  

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) under the Communist Party of China (CPC) claims itself as the only representative of the Chinese nation including the territories of Tibet and Taiwan among others. Any country having formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, also known as Republic of China shall be seen by China as challenging its sovereignty. The same parameter applies to any country recognizing Tibet or similar ‘autonomous regions’ under the Chinese control. This is known as the ‘One China Principle’ or ‘One China Policy’. India was one of the first countries to recognize the PRC in 1949 after the civil war as well as to accord recognition to its occupation of Tibet. However, China claims the whole of India’s Arunachal Pradesh as ‘South Tibet’, a claim that India has always rebuffed. Moreover, it occupies Aksai Chin which it captured during the 1962 war as well as the Shaksgam valley, ceded illegally to it by Pakistan in 1963.

Even after the war and the re-establishment of cordial bilateral relations, China has continued to repeat its illegitimate claims and nibble into India’s territory.  India’s protests fell on deaf ears and this is despite India recognizing the One China Policy. India stopped mentioning the policy since 2010 in its public announcements and publications, however, without repealing it. Taking undue advantage of this China pays little concern to Indian sentiments. This view in India, to challenge China’s One China Policy, has been strengthened by aggressive diplomatic postures of China as well as its regular incursions along the disputed border while continuing to support Islamabad on all fronts – overtly and covertly, encircling India. 

The government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to give in to the bullying attempts by China by allowing the Army to go ahead with offensive countermeasures against Chinese incursions in 2017 as well as in 2020, in addition to taking measures including banning dozens of Chinese mobile applications. It has also started actively taking part in initiatives like Quadrilateral Dialogue as well as strengthening relations with ASEAN states. However, a dominant section within the strategic community in India feel that these measures are not enough to knock China into its senses. 

Challenging the One China Policy 

The most significant among the measures suggested in this regard has been to review India’s adherence to the One China policy. In an atmosphere where China does not recognize the One India policy comprising of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territories, experts argue the need of reciprocity. Initiatives such as providing greater global visibility and access for Tibetans including the 14th Dalai Lama, using Buddhist history and traditions as a trump card since New Delhi has the advantage of having the Dalai Lama on its side, provides legitimacy for India unlike China. India can facilitate the appointment of the next Dalai Lama and extend protection for the existing and the next Dalai Lama. The repeal of the recognition for Chinese occupation of Tibet can also send major tremors in Beijing but that seems to be a distant dream. The new democratic Tibetan government under President Penpa Tsering should be given greater official acknowledgment and publicity. India has already taken small steps in this regard by acknowledging the involvement of the elite Special Frontier Force (SFF), majorly comprising of exiled Tibetans, in a game changing operation to shift the balance against China during the recent border crisis. The funeral of an SFF commando attended by a Member of Parliament and leader from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Ram Madhav was an overt signaling to China that Indians are not refraining from openly recognizing Tibetan contributions to the state of India. Another sensitive issue for China is the Xinjiang’s Uyghur Muslims being allegedly tortured and deprived of their basic human rights in the ‘re-education camps’ by the CPC and a state sponsored genocide being carried out against them. India can take up the issue vigorously at international forums with like-minded countries, increasing the pressure on China. Similarly, the pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong, pro-Mongol movements such as the protest against Mandarin imposition in the school curriculum of Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, can also be encouraged or given moral support. India, a country which upholds its virtue of unity in diversity must take a strong stand against the ‘cultural assimilation’ or ‘liberation’ as the Chinese say. This is nothing but cultural destruction imposed by China using the rhetoric of ‘not being civilised’ and branding the non-Han population as barbaric in China and the regions it illegally occupies.

India can also stir the hornet’s nest by engaging more formally with the Taiwanese leadership. Taipei has always been approached by New Delhi keeping in mind the sensitivities of China in mind. However, it does not have to do so for a power that bullies both the nations with constant threats and provocations by its action. It is a well-known fact that Taiwan is a center of excellence in terms of the semi-conductor industry and high-end technology. Engaging more with Taiwan will not only hurt Beijing, but also will help India counter the strategic advantage possessed by China in terms of being the major exporters of electronic goods and telecommunication hardware to India. India can also attain more self-sufficiency by boosting its own electronics industry using the Taiwanese semiconductor bases. India can use this leverage to shed its overdependence on China in critical sectors, balance the trade deficit to some extent, while also securing its networks from Chinese intelligence. India must also focus on working with the states having stake in the South China Sea such as Philippines and Malaysia who regularly face aggression in their airspace and Exclusive Economic Zones from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces and China’s maritime militia, questioning their territorial sovereignty, imposing the One China Policy. New Delhi must pressurize China by working with the western nations, whose legislators have openly declared support for the Tibetan President in exile, to question China’s occupation of Tibet and attempts at homogenizing the population. Long term measures and strategies will have to be sought to end the dependence on China while seeking alternatives and becoming self-reliant over time. 

However, India will face several serious challenges to implement the above-mentioned measures. There is a deep lack of mutual trust among major powers like USA, UK, France and Russia through whom India can build a coalition. The American President Joe Biden is seemingly interested in partly co-operating with China and has a softer stance unlike the former President Trump. Nevertheless, the QUAD is a welcome step in this regard and India must undertake a greater role in pressurizing China through such forums, albeit not openly. India also has a serious issue of possibly having to incur heavy economic losses on having to limit Chinese goods and investments and finding similarly cheap and easy alternatives. These fault lines are exactly what is being exploited by China to its advantage. Thus, the Indian state and its diplomacy has the heavy task of working between all these hurdles and taking China to task. However, since China seems remotely interested in settling the border disputes like it did with its post-Soviet neighbours in the previous decades and instead gauge pressure against India. So, New Delhi will have to pull up its sleeves to pay back China in the same coin.  

The views expressed are solely of the author.

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East Asia

Who would bell the China cat?

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If the G-7 and NATO china-bashing statements are any guide, the world is in for another long interregnum of the Cold War (since demise of the Soviet Union). The G-7 leaders called upon China to “respect human rights in its Xinjiang region” and “allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy” and “refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilize the East and South China Seas”, besides maintaining “peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits”.

China’s tit-for-tat response

The Chinese mission to the European Union called upon the NATO not to exaggerate the “China threat theory”

Bitter truths

Amid the pandemic, still raging, the world is weary of resuscitating Cold War era entente. Even the G-7 members, Canada and the UK appear to be lukewarm in supporting the US wish to plunge the world into another Cold War. Even the American mothers themselves are in no mood to welcome more coffins in future wars. Importance of the G-7 has been whittled down by G-20. 

Presumptions about the China’s cataclysmic rise are unfounded. Still, China is nowhere the US gross National Product. China’s military budget is still the second largest after the US. It is still less than a third of Washington’s budget to be increased by 6.8 per cent in 2021.

India’s role

India claims to be a natural ally of the G-7 in terms of democratic “values”. But the US based Freedom House has rated India “partly free because of its dismal record in persecution of minorities. Weakened by electoral setbacks in West Bengal, the Modi government has given a free hand to religious extremists. For instance, two bigots, Suraj Pal Amu and Narsinghanand Saraswati have been making blasphemous statements against Islam at press conferences and public gatherings.

India’s main problem

Modi government’s mismanagement resulted in shortage of vaccine and retroviral drugs. The healthcare system collapsed under the mounting burden of fatalities.  

Media and research institutions are skeptical of the accuracy of the death toll reported by Indian government.

The New York Times dated June 13, 2021 reported (Tracking Corona virus in India: Latest Map and case Count) “The official COVID-19 figures in India grossly under-estimate the true scale of the pandemic in the country”. The Frontline dated June 4, 2021 reported “What is clear in all these desperate attempts is the reality that the official numbers have utterly lost their credibility in the face of the biggest human disaster in independent India (V. Sridhar, India’s gigantic death toll due to COVID-19 is  thrice  the official numbers”, The frontline, June 4, 2021). It adds “More than 6.5 lakh Indians, not the 2.25 lakh reported officially are estimated to have died so far and at best a million more are expected to die by September 2021. The Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that actual Indian casualties may be 0.654 million (6.54 lakh), not the official count of 0.221 million (2.21 lakh as on May 6 when the report was released. That is a whopping three times the official numbers, an indicator of the extent of under-reporting”.

Epidemiologist Dr. Feigl-ding told India Today TV on April, 16, 2021 that “actual number of COVID-19 cases in India can be five or six times higher than the tally right now” (“Actual COVID-19 cases in India may be 5 to 10 times higher, says epidemiologist. India Today TV April 16, 2021).

Concluding remarks

India’s animosity against China is actuated by expediency. There is no chance of a full-blown war between China and India as the two countries have agreed not to use firepower in border skirmishes, if any. Modi himself told the All-party conference that not an inch of Indian territory has been ceded to China. In May this year, the Army Chief General M M. Naravane noted in an interview: “There has been no transgression of any kind and the process of talks is continuing.”

It is not China but the Quad that is disturbing unrest in China’s waters.

History tells the USA can sacrifice interests of its allies at the altar of self interest. India sank billions of dollars in developing the Chabahar Port. But, India had to abandon it as the US has imposed sanctions on Iran.

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East Asia

Xinjiang? A Minority Haven Or Hell

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While the G7 meets under the shadow of Covid 19 and the leaders of the most prosperous nations on earth are focused on rebuilding their economies, a bloodless pogrom is being inflicted on a group of people on the other side of the world.

In this new era, killing people is wasteful and could bring the economic wrath of the rest of the world.  No, it is better to brainwash them, to re-educate them, to destroy their culture, to force them to mold themselves into the alien beings who have invaded their land in the name of progress, and who take the best new jobs that sprout with economic development.  Any protest at these injustices are treated severely.

Amnesty International has published a new 160-page report this week on Xinjiang detailing the horrors being perpetrated on Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.  Amnesty has simultaneously announced a campaign on their behalf.

Persecution, mass imprisonment in what can best be described as concentration camps, intensive interrogation and torture are actions that come under the definition of ‘crimes against humanity’.  More than 50 people who spent time in these camps contributed first-hand accounts that form the substance of the report.  It is not easy reading for these people have themselves suffered maltreatment even torture in many instances.

The UN has claimed that 1.5 million Muslims (Uighurs, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Tajiks) are in these internment camps and China’s claims of re-education camps made to sound as benign as college campuses are patently false.

People report being interviewed in police stations and then transferred to the camps.  Their interrogation was frequently conducted on ‘tiger chairs’:   The interviewee is strapped to a metal chair with leg irons and hands cuffed in such a manner that the seating position soon becomes exceedingly painful.  Some victims were hooded; some left that way for 24 hours or more, and thus were forced to relieve themselves, even defecate, where they sat.  Beatings and sleep deprivation were also common.

Activities were closely monitored and they were mostly forbidden to speak to other internees including cell mates.  Trivial errors such as responding to guards or other officials in their native language instead of Mandarin Chinese resulted in punishment.

Amnesty’s sources reported the routine was relentless.  Wake up at 5am.  Make bed — it had to be perfect.  A flag-raising and oath-taking ceremony before breakfast at 7 am.  Then to the classroom.  Back to the canteen for lunch.  More classes after.  Then dinner.  Then more classes before bed.  At night two people had to be on duty for two hours monitoring the others leaving people exhausted.  You never see sunlight while you are there, they said.  That was because they were never taken outside as is done in most prisons.

The re-education requires them to disavow Islam, stop using their native language, give up cultural practices, and become Mandarin-speaking ‘Chinese’.

Such are the freedoms in Xi Jinping’s China.  If China’s other leaders prior to Mr. Xi effected moderate policies in concert with advisers, it is no longer the case.  Mr. Xi works with a small group of like minds.  He has also removed the two-term or eight-year limit on being president.  President for life as some leaders like to call themselves, then why not Mr. Xi.  His anti-democratic values make him eminently qualified. 

An enlightened leader might have used the colorful culture of these minorities to attract tourists and show them the diversity of China.  Not Mr. Xi, who would rather have everyone march in lockstep to a colorless utopia reminiscent of the grey clothing and closed-collar jackets of the Maoist era. 

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