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We are "red" and unpredictable

The development of relations with Japan is not only a discussion of the economic agenda, but also a struggle with stereotypes

Famous orientalist Dmitry Streltsov believes that for the Japanese the main thing in projects is predictability and long-term. Even if, along with this, there is damage to their benefits.


We are "red" and unpredictable
Photo by: kremlin.ru
Against the background of the frequent meetings and the revitalization of the dialogue between the top officials of Russia and Japan, as well as the upcoming December visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Japan, the EastRussia correspondent spoke with the head of the Department of Oriental Studies at the Faculty of International Relations of MGIMO, Professor Dmitry Streltsov

- Dmitry Viktorovich, the 7 conference of MGIMO and the Japan Institute of International Affairs has just finished its work. Please tell us about it in more detail.
- It should be noted that this conference is the only scientific forum held by our university together with Japanese partners on an ongoing basis. The fact that this dialogue format is bilateral, not multilateral, as in the case of the trilateral conference of MGIMO with South Korean and Chinese colleagues, has a positive side, which is more trustworthy. However, in some cases, in my opinion, it would be advisable to hold a conference with the Japanese in a multilateral format.

The composition of the participants in the Russian-Japanese conference changes from year to year, only a few of its organizers remain permanent on both sides. The conference is held in private, without the participation of media representatives. ChathamHouse rules are used - everything heard at the conference can be relayed, but without indicating the source. As for the topics covered at the conference, these are security issues in the world and in Northeast Asia, and economic and political cooperation between Russia and Japan. For example, at a recent conference, they discussed the situation related to the presidential elections in the United States.

For these reasons, I cannot comment on specific issues raised at the conference, including those related to the current state of Russian-Japanese relations. However, I dare to assure you that both sides treasure this opportunity of informal communication, which allows them to keep abreast of the most diverse, sometimes conflicting opinions, for example, regarding ways to resolve the crisis on the Korean Peninsula or territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

- Let's return to the long-worn-out issue between Russia and Japan - the question of the Kurile Islands. Our President says that we need to find a solution to the issue that will allow each side to "save face", in the sense that each of the parties does not consider itself a loser. In your opinion, as an expert and a Japanese scientist, what can be a real solution to the issue?
- If I talk about my private opinion, which I have stated repeatedly, I believe that this issue can be resolved in accordance with the Joint Soviet-Japanese declaration of the year 1956, according to which the USSR (and Russia as its legal successor) sign a peace treaty, after which Japan Shikotan Island and the Habomai Ridge are transferred, and a point is put in the dispute. Since the Declaration has been ratified by the parliaments of the two countries and has the force of international law, this obligation is an international legal obligation of Russia, having in accordance with Article 15 of the Constitution a priority over domestic legislation. If we do not like the article 9 of the Declaration and we do not intend to fulfill it, we can unilaterally denounce this declaration. One need only bear in mind that this will automatically return us in the period until 1956, when the two countries did not have diplomatic relations and were formally at war.

Since the positions of the parties on the issue of border demarcation are fundamentally different, there is also a third way: to recognize this formally and to postpone this dispute for a long time, leaving it in accordance with the formula of Deng Xiaoping to the judgment of the next generations who "will be wiser than us." In other words, we are talking about the actual freezing of this issue in the interests of preserving one's own person in conditions when his decision is not visible under current conditions.

Which of the possible ways of solving the problem of the Kuril Islands will become the main one, we will find out, most likely, in the near future. It should be noted that finding a concrete formula for this decision, in my opinion, is in fact completely in the hands of the political leadership of both countries. The influence of public opinion and the expert community is small, negotiations are conducted behind closed doors.

Today we see some kind of revival associated with high expectations about the prospects for an early resolution of this problem. Russia on this issue takes a more restrained position than Japan, which puts the issue of territorial delimitation at the center of the agenda of bilateral relations with Moscow.

I think that what will be announced in December during Putin's visit to Japan has already been agreed in principle at the highest level, and the options discussed in the media reflect only the opinions of private individuals.

- How strongly, from your point of view, the unresolved nature of this issue complicates Russian-Japanese economic cooperation?
- The main reason for Japanese business restraint in the Russian direction, of course, is still an imperfect investment climate, insufficient provision of foreign investors' rights, shortcomings of the Russian judicial system, etc.

However, of course, the situation with the islands contributes to its contribution. This is due to the fact that the Japanese business planning large projects in Russia traditionally should receive political support from the government for this, and its provision depends on the political climate in the country, on the international political situation and on the state of bilateral relations. This can be clearly seen in the examples of the past: the arrival of the Toyota car company in Russia, followed by the Japanese business in our country and in other areas, including the banking sector and insurance services, was determined for both economic and political reasons. The political component is also clearly traced in the issue of laying a gas pipeline to Japan from Sakhalin, which is still in a frozen state.

The problem of the islands plays a role in the cautious attitude of small and medium-sized businesses to investing in Russia, despite the fact that its dependence on the political climate in Japan is less than that of large businesses. The Kuril issue exerts its influence on the mental, psychological level, creating incorrect prejudices and stereotypes in relation to Russia. This is not a specific attitude towards modern Russia, but a steadily negative image of our country that has existed in Japan since the times of the Soviet Union. In the view of many Japanese businessmen, today's Russia is the same USSR, it remains the same "red" and frighteningly unpredictable, and therefore unattractive for long-term investments. For small and medium-sized businesses it is psychologically more comfortable and easier to come to the same communist China, but not to Russia.

- In general, what characteristics can you give today to Russian-Japanese relations - taking into account the complicated relations between Russia and the US, burdened by sanctions, and, on the other hand, taking into account the situation in the triangle China-Russia-Japan?
- Russian-Japanese relations are now objectively on the rise. Both our countries feel the need for each other in the face of the new challenges facing them in the field of economy, international politics and security.

As for Russia's position in relation to Japan, its role here is that it showed signs of some disappointment in Beijing, which did not unconditionally support Russia on the Ukrainian issue and did not recognize Crimea as a Russian territory. In addition, China tried to take advantage of Russia's economic difficulties to obtain unilateral benefits, for example, at gas prices. The resolution of the dispute would help Moscow solve many economic problems, since large projects involving Japanese capital would help to straighten out the "Chinese bank" in Russian foreign economic relations, weaken the negative consequences for the Russian economy of the sanctions regime, implement the tasks of developing the depressive territories of Siberia and the Far East and etc.

At the same time, Japan is also interested in economic ties with Russia. Japan is focused on diversifying the supply of energy raw materials, and Russian supplies in this regard can become reliable, relatively cheap and have an advantage in terms of geographical proximity. This is the reason for the prospect of concluding large new additional contracts with Japan on energy raw materials.

As for the American factor in our relations with Japan, I believe that now, after Trump's victory, Washington's intervention in their course and development will be minimal. This is due to the fact that Trump openly stated in his election speeches about the need to normalize relations with Moscow, in connection with which the hypothetical US attempts to torpedo Russian-Japanese relations will at least seem illogical. In addition, Trump's rhetoric as a whole reflects the growing US sentiment of increasing sentiment in favor of isolationism and a departure from positioning itself as the "sole superpower" and the "world policeman." In this logic, America must give Japan, its main strategic ally in Asia, much greater freedom of hands in building relations with Russia. In other words, if the US wants to remove its responsibility to protect its allies, giving them the right to choose their own security strategy, up to acquiring their own nuclear potential, then why can not these partners choose their partners on the world arena and build relations with these partners own discretion?

- And what attitude towards Russia should we expect from Japan in the foreseeable future?
- Japan is extremely worried by the growth of China's military ambitions, insufficient in its view, the level of security guarantees on the part of the US, which, according to the widely held view in Japan, may not engage in armed conflict with China in the event of an escalation of the Sino-Japanese territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands . In Tokyo, there are great fears about the prospect of a China-Russia rapprochement in the military field, taking place against the backdrop of Moscow's confrontation with the West, and are making every effort to prevent the formation of a Russian-Chinese bloc on an anti-Japanese basis.

It is also important that Japan in the past year has shown a sufficient degree of determination to develop relations with Moscow, even ignoring the repeated warnings from Washington that “now is not the time to do business with Russia because of Ukraine”. I think that the line to continue this dialogue in a constructive manner will be continued regardless of the political situation associated with the American factor. For Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, determined to change relations with Russia for the better, this is a matter of personal ambition. The opportunity for the ruling LDP to gain additional propaganda points from foreign policy success in the Russian direction in the face of the collapse of hopes for a new economic recovery also plays a role.

- Recently, the media reported that in the Far East, it is possible to create a special territory for advanced development in the place that is of interest for Japanese business and Japanese investors. At the same time, this TOR will envisage the participation of Japanese partners in its management. Some experts have reacted negatively to such an idea, arguing that such a TOP is practically the sale of part of the Far East of Japan. What is your attitude to this idea?
- TORs are an important tool for attracting foreign investment, including from Japan, to the Russian Far East. However, this goal can not be achieved with the help of the TOR system. To make the investment climate in Russia attractive, it is necessary to create a system for protecting the rights of foreign investors, to conduct judicial reform, etc., i.e. solve many of our internal problems.

- More recently, the Minister of Economy, Industry and Trade of Japan Hiroshige Seko, recently appointed as Japanese Minister for Economic Relations with Russia, came to Moscow and negotiated with the economic bloc of our Government. How can you comment on this appointment?
- The fact that in September Abe appointed the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, one of his most trusted representatives, Hiroshige Seko, to the specially created post of Minister for Economic Cooperation with Russia, is undoubtedly remarkable. It should be noted that this is the only case of the creation of such a "country" post in the Japanese government. Also noteworthy is another recent of the same kind - that in Japan, in order to concretize the Plan of eight points, the Council for the Promotion of Economic Cooperation with Russia was created, headed by Hiroshige Seko. And here the next detail is interesting - this body included deputy heads of all ministries of Japan, which speaks of an extremely wide range of areas of cooperation.

- What are the results of the talks between Seko and the economic bloc of our Government?
- As part of his visit to Moscow, Hiroshige Seko held talks with First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, Minister of Economic Development Alexei Ulyukaev, and Minister for the Development of the Far East Alexander Galushka. About three dozen cooperation projects were discussed, which after elaboration will be submitted for approval to the leaders of the two countries in December this year. It is also important that Hiroshige Seko announced the possibility for Japanese banks to lend to Russian regional banks that are not under sanctions, thereby making it clear to business that investments in Russia are not only allowed, but also welcomed.

- In your opinion, how important are the projects in the Far East of Russia and Eastern Siberia in the economic aspect of cooperation? Very noticeable was the arrival of the Japanese delegation to the Eastern Economic Forum.
- The results of the Eastern Economic Forum were clearly demonstrated by the fact that in Japan the approach to economic relations with Moscow has changed. The Forum was attended by the heads of major Japanese corporations along with the prime minister. The agreements voiced at the forum concern the buyout of Mitsui, a large (almost 5%) stake in RusHydro, the granting of a large loan by the Japan Development Bank JBIC to Russia's NOVATEK, the construction of a car assembly plant in Vladivostok by MazdaSollers, etc. Of course, most of the agreements at the forum were "memorandums of understanding", which gave skeptics reason to say that much will remain on paper, but the words began to be backed up by business. Right after the forum, Tokyo announced about us rhenium allocate almost 10 billion. USD. for the implementation of the Plan of eight points. the JBIC announced the investment in the gas project "Yamal LNG", and the intention to establish together with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RFPI) special fund to invest in Russian projects.

- And what can you say about Japan's current economic cooperation with Russia, and, in particular, with its Far East?
- Risk-averse Japanese take a cautious approach, according to which it is necessary to refrain from new large projects, focusing on existing ones - innovations should be encouraged, improvements introduced, etc. Accordingly, no greenfields from them should not wait. A pleasant exception in this respect was the example of success in the implementation of such a project as hothouse vegetable production in the Khabarovsk Territory, initiated by an average Japanese company under the guarantees of the Japanese Bank of Hokkaido. Although it is possible that new Far Eastern preferences played a role here.

It should be noted that the revival in the economic ties between Japan and the Russian Far East is mainly due to the initiatives of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. We are talking about individual, as yet pilot projects - the construction of the same greenhouses in the Khabarovsk Territory, a diagnostic center in Primorye, etc. One can hope that the situation will be qualitatively changed by the implementation of the proposed eight-point plan by Abe Plan, especially since he received major guarantees from the Japanese government. Great hopes are associated with the interest shown by Japan in Russian agricultural products. Japan could make large purchases of soybeans in the Amur region, given its high quality.

Among the investment projects that, in my opinion, have the greatest prospects for bilateral relations, especially the infrastructure development projects, development in the fields of agriculture, social sphere, modernization of industrial production - all of them are extremely relevant for the eastern regions of Russia. This includes the development of the Northern Sea Route, the construction of a Japanese clinic in the Far East, and the creation of a wind power potential there. Particularly noteworthy is the possibility of Japan using the new Vostochny cosmodrome, which is located in geographical proximity to the Land of the Rising Sun and therefore has a special appeal for it.

- Recently, a project focused on supplies to Japan, the Inaglinsky GOK, was launched in Yakutia. Some experts are skeptical about this orientation of the project, noting the possibility of future unstable Japanese demand for Russian coal in the future. What opinion do you have about the prospects of coal supplies by this mining and concentrating enterprise to Japan and, in principle, creating similar mining and processing plants in Japan in the Far East?
- It seems that the Inaglinsky GOK project is promising for the reason that there is a stable demand in Japan for Yakut coal. On the whole, however, the promotion by the Russian side of any projects of cooperation with Japan requires a thorough economic justification, taking into account the situation on the Japanese market. In other words, first it is necessary to study the Japanese situation as much as possible and conduct marketing research. In addition, initiators need to establish good partners in Japan in advance. In other words, it is not enough to rely solely on the attractive aspects associated with Russian conditions, including the high quality of coal of the future GOK. For Japan, the main thing that should distinguish a project, including from the coal sector, is its predictability and long-term, even if there is some damage to immediate benefits. The Japanese side gives priority to the prospects for long-term cooperation, even if the partner does not provide the most favorable terms of the transaction, but it will be reliable and will be able to ensure strict compliance with the terms of the contract.

- In December of this year, President Putin’s visit to Japan is being prepared. What decisions can presumably be taken at this important meeting?
- I think its main results will still be in the economic plane - most likely, they will become the development and concretization of Abe's eight-point plan, proposed by him at his May meeting with Vladimir Putin in Sochi. Perhaps, in the context of the positive results of the visit, it will be possible to name some initiatives of the Russian side voiced in Japan in the field of economic cooperation, if only these initiatives find support from the Japanese side.
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