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How not to lose big in pursuit of small
Andrey Gubinthe head of scientific programs of the Asia-Pacific Center RISI (Vladivostok), associate professor of the School of Regional and International Studies of the FEFU, Ph.D.
Contrary to popular belief that the political dialogue between Moscow and Tokyo is limited only by a territorial dispute, interaction is being built on a wide range of issues and has recently been developing in the light of changing global and regional situations. It is extremely indicative that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe complained about the absence of Vladimir Putin at the G-7 summit in Brussels in June 2014 and expressed the hope that Russia will be involved in solving major world issues, while the Land of the Rising Sun its turn aims to continue a constructive dialogue with Russia. It is likely that Russian-Japanese relations will continue to line up in this regard in a bilateral format, including the meeting of the Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs of the two countries according to the “2 + 2” scheme.
At the beginning of November 2013, the first round of inter-ministerial consultations took place in a new format according to the personal agreement reached between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in April of the same year. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted, "the decision of our leaders reflected their desire to give Russian-Japanese relations the character of a strategic partnership, to strengthen mutual trust, to expand cooperation on issues of global and regional security." It is worth noting that the idea to hold negotiations in this format was proposed by the Japanese side, before that Tokyo practiced similar meetings only with Washington and Canberra. The head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry Fumio Kisida, meanwhile, noted that "the Japanese-American alliance still occupies the leading place in Japanese security policy, nevertheless, the deepening of security cooperation between Japan and Russia as the main players of East Asia will contribute to the affairs of stability region ".
One protocol moment is also interesting: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe received Russian ministers Sergey Shoigu and Sergey Lavrov on a day off at his private residence. This indicates the extremely high interest of the head of the Japanese government in the development of a comprehensive political dialogue with Russia. As it seems, an equal and full-fledged discussion of regional and global issues with the Russian Federation, including security aspects, significantly enhances the foreign policy image of Japan as a responsible "middle power" pursuing a restrained foreign policy. In addition, the benevolent tone of bilateral relations also significantly impedes Beijing’s destabilizing actions in the East China Sea.
In late April 2014, President Barack Obama visited Tokyo during his Asia tour. One of the main statements was Washington's reaffirmation of obligations to protect Tokyo in confrontation with Beijing over the disputed islands, which are "ruled by the Japanese side." In addition, the American president hastened the Japanese prime minister to fully enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership, noting the lack of progress on the Japanese side in regulating tariffs and providing access to the car market. Of course, the situation around Ukraine was also discussed, which was given more time on the agenda than even North Korea. Shinzo Abe was quick to point out that the Japanese-American alliance is more reliable than ever ...
In late July, Tokyo announced the imposition of additional sanctions against Russia: it is expected to freeze the assets of individuals and organizations "directly involved in the Crimea's accession to Russia and destabilize the situation in eastern Ukraine", restrictions were imposed on the import of Crimean goods. The Russian Foreign Ministry considers the decision of Japan based on an erroneous idea of the causes of what is happening in Ukraine, moreover, it shows the country's non-independent policy. 22 August, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Igor Morgulov handed to the ambassador of Japan in Russia Tikahito Harada a list of Japanese nationals, against whom restrictions on entry into our country were introduced in response.
It is curious that not all Japanese support the official position of Tokyo. There is even an opinion that the time has come for “rebellion” of Tokyo against Washington, since the movement in line with American politics turns into substantial economic and reputational losses. However, despite the obvious benefits of partnering with Russia, Japan cannot yet neglect an alliance with the United States, primarily because of the Chinese threat.
The dynamics of Japanese investment in the Russian economy remains stable. In 2013, the accumulated investments exceeded 12 billion dollars.
Over the past two years, the climate of interregional cooperation has also improved significantly. So, in 2012, the foreign trade turnover of the Primorsky Territory with Japan amounted to 885 million dollars, and in 2013 already exceeded 1,87 billion, investments for the year increased from 14 million to 1 billion!
There are opinions that the emerging trend of Japan’s gradual lifting of restrictions on economic cooperation with Russia, especially with its Far Eastern regions, including investment activity, will diminish due to the tightening of the sanctions policy towards our country by the United States and its allies. At the same time, Japanese representatives actually propose to separate economic issues from political issues, especially those related to events in Ukraine.
In general, it can be stated that Japan today faces a historic choice: to be an independent, responsible "middle power" that plays an important role in solving regional and global issues, or to remain in US orbit. Today, it is really early to talk about breaking the US-Japan military alliance, although, given the nature of the development of the Self-Defense Forces of Japan and the movement to revise the interpretation of the Constitution, a trend has begun. However, Tokyo has the right to independently form the agenda of bilateral relations and determine their format, as evidenced by the significant progress in Russian-Japanese cooperation over the past two years due to the obvious need for rapprochement between the two countries in new geopolitical conditions.