01.11.2016 Author: Vladimir Terehov

On the Upcoming Visit of the Russian President V.V. Putin to Japan

32423423231The subject of the upcoming visit of the Russian President V.V. Putin to Japan, which may result in a radical breakthrough in the development of bilateral relations, is gradually shifting into the focus of the Japanese media.

At the same time, the other issues, also important for Japan’s foreign policy, remain in the news. For example, the lack of visible progress in its relations with China, and increasingly prominent (long-accumulated) problems in relations with its key ally: the USA.

The latter are increasingly acute amid uncertainty caused by the American presidential race, in the course of which one of the candidates has articulated messages that Japan met with extreme caution.

The key (and very complex) problem of developing Russian strategy in respect of Japan is linked with the fact that it cannot ignore the complicated situation in North-East Asia, as well as the nature of Russia’s relations with the two leading regional powers: China and the USA.

Any possible objections regarding America’s “non-regionality” should be rejected at once. The USA is a global power de facto, which means it is a regional power in any region of the world, especially in North-East Asia, and not because the American President talks about it or it is written in some official papers of the Washington administration. Yet this “globality” weighs upon the Americans, which is the sensitive issue of the current presidential campaign.

The speculative immediate withdrawal of the USA from North-East Asia (as a possible reaction to aforementioned sentiments) will surely transform the situation in the region from “complex” to “catastrophic”. The reasons for this have been discussed many times in New Eastern Outlook articles.

This kind of withdrawal obviously worries not only Japan but also (quite possibly) China, in spite of the growing problems in the US-China relations.

It is highly desirable for all involved that should the US minimise its presence (which is inevitable in the author’s view) in North-East Asia (and, perhaps, in the whole world), the emerging “emptiness” would be filled by other leading players in order to prevent the collapse of the fragile (and imperfect) construction of the modern world order.

For the purposes of the efficient development of relations with Japan, Russia should not expect a downgrade in the level of Japan-US relations, which will develop in accordance with their internal logic. The main peculiarity of the development of the Japanese-American alliance over the past 10-15 years is linked with the intrinsic process of the relative alignment of its participants’ importance.

In the process of “normalizing” Japan, i.e. its shift away from the post-war image of “economic giant – political dwarf” and the country’s transformation into one of the leading political players, it is inevitably setting its own goals in the new global game, which do not always or fully coincide with the US objectives. Nonetheless, they continue playing the role of the big brother in some ways.

The US leadership takes this fact into account. Moreover, it encourages this process to a large extent, trying to remove the burden of increasingly serious foreign liabilities at least partially.

In other words, the Japan-US alliance no longer has anything in common with the wide-spread opinion among certain analysts linked with the image of a servant-samurai eating from his master-shogun’s hand.

As in any other alliance, each of the members of the Japan-US alliance has to take into account the interests of its partner while planning any unilateral activities in the international arena and consider the importance of the maintaining the alliance. This rather obvious thesis is reflected in the process of the Japanese leadership’s preparation for the upcoming visit of the Russian President in exemplary fashion. The outcome of the visit may become a landmark event not only in the history of the modern Japan, but in the development of the situation in North-East Asia, and, possibly, in the entire world.

In early October 2016, during a visit to New York, while participating in the regular session of the UN General Assembly, the Prime-Minister of Japan Shinzō Abe found time to meet with Hillary Clinton, i.e. with one of the two candidates for the highest office in Japan’s allied country. He thus demonstrated Japanese preferences in respect of the results of the upcoming elections in the USA. The reason for such preferences is quite evident and it has been discussed in the articles of New Eastern Outlook. Moreover, the Japanese Prime-Minister brought Japan’s intention to considerably improve its relations with Russia to the notice of the US political elite.

According to Kurt Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of State (i.e. to Hillary Clinton herself) for affairs in the Asia-Pacific Region in 2009-2013, who attended the meeting, his former chief said: “I accept this strategic wisdom” (l). Therefore, S. Abe gained the American elite’s approval of the Japanese strategy in the upcoming negotiations with the Russian President.

However, the most serious problem regarding the development of the best possible Russian policy in respect of Japan is apparently related to the increasing competitive positioning of Japan and China on the entire global stage and in North-East Asia, in particular. In this regard, a key point here is that China is Russia’s significant neighbour and they enjoy positive relations.

Even now, during the preparation of the visit of V.V. Putin to Japan, China is trying to make careful predictions on its possible outcomes. Needless to say, the entire process of the future negotiations will attract the most careful attention, as too will the official documents adopted upon their completion.

In this context, the well-balanced nature of Russia’s steps towards Japan take on particular importance. Japan itself serves as an example of this by conducting a “preliminary test” of various measures regarding Russia in Washington. Similarly, Russia should take into account the position (and concerns) of China in connection with the upcoming Russian-Japanese summit.

It should be noted once again, that Japan’s key ally will be attending the Japanese-Russian negotiations in spirit. This means that in Tokyo the Russian President will be indirectly engaged in dialogue with Russia’s current major opponent in terms of foreign policy. This fact emphasizes the impossibility of eliminating US presence in Russian-Japanese relations in the foreseeable future.

However, the author is puzzled about what the fundamental obstacles to building productive US-Russian relations actually are. The secondary political “routine” i.e. Syria or, moreover, Ukraine cannot be regarded as such obstacles.

Meanwhile, positive US-Russian relations would open up inviting prospects for the USA to participate, for example, in the development of Siberia and the Russian Far East together with Japan and China. Thus, the American dream about access to Siberian resources attributed to Madeleine Albright would come true.

The only thing that potential American partners of Russia would have to take into consideration is that the aforementioned resources are located in the territory of a sovereign state – the Russian Federation.

However, the concepts of “state sovereignty”, “borders” and others are generated by the realities of our world, which is far from perfect. The former US Secretary of State M. Albright hardly planned to ignore them when she was demonstrating interest in the resources of Siberia and the Russian Far East.

Finally, we hope that the upcoming Russia-Japan Summit will serve (more or less) the interests of the leading powers of North-East Asia.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook


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