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

Another Approach to Japan-Russia Relations
KAWATO Akio / Former Ambassador to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan

November 1, 2019
In early September during the annual Eastern Economic Forum held in Vladivostok, Prime Minister Abe had his 27th summit meeting with President Putin. However, there was no progress on the Four Northern Islands issue which is the biggest concern of the bilateral relationship, and there will likely be no meaningful change in the near future.

U.S.-Russia relations began to deteriorate around 2007, and Russia has no reason to make concession on this territorial dispute to Japan, an ally of the United States (Putin has said "Japan does not seem to have sovereignty", and seems to regard Japan as a tributary of the U.S.). The Sea of Okhotsk, where the Four Northern Islands are located, occupies a strategic position where Russian submarines equipped with nuclear missiles targeted at the United States patrol. That said, should Russia succeed in establishing good relations with President Trump, it would only decrease Japan’s importance to Russia, and thus improved U.S.-Russia relations would not contribute to the progress of the Four Northern Islands issue.

Similar to what occurred in Hong Kong, from mid-July to the end of August, members of the younger generation in Moscow and other large Russian cities used social media to organize repeated weekend gatherings calling for increased democratization. Demonstrations and gatherings frequently occurred on environmental and landscape issues along with protests against tightened control by government security forces. For the younger generation (43% of the population is under 34) has been liberating itself from the Putin administration, which has been supported by repressive security organizations similar to those of the Soviet era, is looking increasingly alien.

But President Putin, who is scheduled to leave office in 2024, is losing control of the government especially the security agencies. They increasingly provoke people by repeating actions similar to those taken in the Stalin era, i.e., arresting anti-government bloggers and human rights lawyers from their homes in the middle of the night.

Thus Russia does not feel the need to tackle the territorial issue with Japan, and even if it did, concessions on the territorial issue would further weaken the president's position in the country.

Despite this situation, in regards to Russia, Japan is bent on pursuing the territorial issue, repeatedly pleading with the two-party negotiation tactic of "ask and it shall be given to you" as if imploring to the strong. While some say that economically weak Russia should need Japan's help, Russia's finances are categorized as the best in the world and there is little deficit. Besides, Russian politicians have little concern for the economy. Russia believes that steamrolling its ego through is the way to exercise its sovereignty in the world and, in the absence of economic power to speak of, tries to make up for it by the size of its territory and its nuclear capability.

Under these circumstances, it would seem that a peace treaty could not be signed unless Japan relinquished its claim to all four northern islands. Any Japanese politicians promoting such an action would be stigmatized for generations. On the other hand, it would be the height of immaturity to go to war or cut off diplomatic relations with Russia over the Four Northern Islands issue. A sensible course of action would seem to be to secure Russia’s consent that "the territorial issue remains unresolved" and, at the same time, to propose development projects that will also benefit Japan.

Overcutting the vast forests of Siberia and the Far East in recent years to export timber to China contributed to the large-scale wildfires in July. Taking these things into account, why not propose the construction of a “cellulose nanofiber” production facility that would generate larger profits with smaller amounts of timber? Also, considering that Japan may one day establish diplomatic relations with North Korea, the proposal of infrastructure construction and trade promotion between Japan, the Russian Far East, the Korean Peninsula, and Northeast China might catch the attention of North Korea.

Japan could also actively share ideas in the area of national security. Considering the possibility of Russia aiding North Korea's missile development and deploying medium-range missiles in the Far East, Japan could call for nuclear arms reduction negotiations between Russia, North Korea, China, and the United States and thereby check Russia's moves. It also has the effect of blocking Russia's opposition to the Aegis-ashore system deployment in Japan.

This indirect method of addressing the problem may not easily be accepted in Japan. However, by sending or posting such proposals to the Japanese and Russian media, there is an opportunity to have a considerable impact on public opinion in Russia and the world and the image of Japan will surely improve. In this way, we can cultivate the ground for solving the territorial issue in the future.

Akio Kawato is the former Deputy Chief of Mission at the Japanese Embassy in Russia.

The English-Speaking Union of Japan

河東 哲夫 / 元駐ウズベキスタン・タジキスタン大使

2019年 11月 1日









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) > Another Approach to Japan-Russia Relations