Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Will Putin’s Visit Lead Japan Away from America?
KAWATO Akio  / Former Deputy Chief of Mission, Japanese Embassy to Russia

December 13, 2016
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit Japan on December 15. Will Japan end its sanctions against Russia and shift its attention to business? Has the time come for Japan to wean itself off the United States?

The answer to both these questions is “No.” Even before Russia annexed Crimea, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo had sought a rapprochement with President Putin, nurturing a relationship that allows them to discuss difficult issues. One reason for doing so was to seek the return of Japan’s “northern territories” – four islands occupied by the former Soviet Union immediately after World War II, which the country continues to place under effective control since deporting Japanese inhabitants. The other reason is to bolster Japan’s position in the balance of power to counter the rise of China by improving relations with Russia.

It is no easy feat to recover territory in peacetime. Russia is currently at odds with Japan’s ally, the United States, which makes it even more difficult to offer concessions to Japan. Even so, Japan is seeking to create a conducive environment for resolving the issue by increasing the number of Russians who view Japan favorably, or those who profit from their relationship with Japan. Promoting economic ties should provide a considerable boost to such efforts.

On the economic front, Japan already imports crude oil, natural gas and coal from Siberia and the Far East region of Russia, which account for a little under 10 percent of its domestic energy needs. While Japanese automakers and construction machinery companies have already set up plants in Russia, Prime Minister Abe has recently presented an eight-point proposal, which places greater emphasis on areas that directly impact the daily lives of Russians, such as medical services and environmental issues. This is not a government aid project. They are for the most part commercial projects pursued by private Japanese companies, and will therefore proceed only within the bounds of profitability. Should Japan also extend trade financing, Russia will be obliged to repay.

The eight points mentioned above include developing industries and building an export hub in the Far East. It would be difficult for Japanese companies to seek business in the Russian Far East, with a population of only six million, while the high costs of development present an obstacle to increase the imports of natural resources. Still, any Indication of Japan’s willingness to develop the Far East region should be enough to win Russia’s gratitude. That is because the neighboring region in northeastern China alone has a population of 120 million, which makes it far more formidable than the Russian Far East in terms of economic prowess. And now that its military force has fallen below one million, Russia is no longer capable of defending the entire stretch of its 4,000 kilometer border with China. The two countries currently belong to a quasi-alliance, but once it succeeds in improving its relationship with the United States, China is likely to adopt a high-handed attitude to Russia on every conceivable issue. Neither China nor Russia has forgotten that the coastal regions around Vladivostok had been ruled by the Qing Dynasty until 1860. For these reasons, Japan’s interest in the Far East region would be a welcome development for Russia. Compared with the Chinese, the Japanese are better customers for Russia’s crude oil and natural gas, not least because of their reputed commitment to contracts.

Meanwhile, by remaining on friendly terms with Russia, Japan can prevent Russia and China from joining hands and applying pressure on Japan in foreign and military affairs.

Japan therefore is not seeking better relations with Russia merely for the sake of economic gain. It is doing so to resolve the territorial issue and to create a counterbalance against China. Japan is trying to protect the free and prosperous society it has built since the end of World War II, and cooperation with the United States constitutes the most important element in doing so.

That is why Japan has been extending approximately1.6 billion dollars each year to help pay the cost of keeping the US bases in Japan. By some accounts, this has made it cheaper for the United States to maintain its troops in Japan than at home. Japan has also rallied behind the TPP (Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement). The TPP agreement will not boost Japan’s auto exports to the United States by a significant margin; Japan already manufactures about six million cars in the United States each year, providing employment for about 130 thousand Americans. Japan supports TPP because it is an effective agreement for drawing China into the arena of free trade.

Putin comes to Japan on Dec. 15. But there is no need for concern that this may lead Japan to engage Russia in any “economic collusion” or break away from the United States. Japan can be expected to manage its relationship with Russia in a responsible manner as one of the key players of the “Western” Bloc.

Akio Kawato is former Deputy Chief of Mission, Japanese Embassy to Russia.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

河東 哲夫  / 元在ロシア大使館公使

2016年 12月 13日
12月15日、プーチン・ロシア大統領が来日することになっている。日本は対ロシア制裁を止め、経済取引を優先するのか? 日本は、米国離れの時を迎えたのか?









一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Will Putin’s Visit Lead Japan Away from America?