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New Year's predictions of the Land of the Rising Sun

In East Asia, Japan is facing problems and upheavals

New Year's predictions of the Land of the Rising Sun

Valery Kistanov

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies
By tradition in Japan 12 December, residents choose the "hieroglyph of the year." The hieroglyph must symbolize the most notable event or an important issue under the sign of which the year passed. This time, the sign was the hieroglyph 北 (North). It starts with the word 北 朝鮮 (North Korea). The hieroglyph reflects the mindset of the Japanese society that prevailed in the outgoing year, an unusually agitated (in many respects artificially) so-called nuclear missile threat from the DPRK. However, I think that in the next few years he will be able to qualify for such an honorary title, since hardly anyone will undertake to predict the timing of the Pyongyang nuclear-missile puzzle. It was she who was elevated by the official Tokyo in the outgoing year to an unprecedented rank of "new level threat". However, in the foreseeable future, Japan in its native Asian region will face not only a "North Korean threat", but also many other problems.

Indeed, the shift of the center of world politics and economics to the Asia-Pacific region, and first of all to East Asia, makes this region extremely important for Japan from the point of view of ensuring its vital political and economic interests. On the one hand, East Asia provides a region of the world where the tasks of the Japanese ruling circles can be most successfully implemented in order to increase the country's political role in the international arena and to bring this role in line with its economic power. On the other hand, it is East Asia that harbors the greatest challenges and threats to Japan, both in the economic and security spheres.

The strengthening of right-conservative tendencies in the political life of the country in recent years allows the ruling circles of the country not only to toughen the foreign policy course of the state, but also to strengthen the military component in it. In 2018, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will continue to prepare the ground for the revision of Japan's peaceful constitution in order to legitimize the current Japanese Self-Defense Forces in the quality of a full-fledged army by the year of 2020. This will pave the way for the transformation of Japan into a powerful military power, which in the future can seriously reformat the regional security situation. The newly adopted Japan's record military budget for the 2018 fiscal year will be another broad step along the way. It will be 5,19 trillion yen (45,7 billion dollars) compared to 5,13 trillion in the previous year. The budget, in particular, provides for the strengthening of anti-missile defense through the purchase of the American system of Aegis Ashor ground-based, as well as the acquisition of Tomahawk cruise missiles. These missiles can be used not only to protect the country's territory from the aggressive actions of enemy ships, but also to deliver preventive strikes against military facilities in the DPRK (only?).

In addition, Tokyo intends to develop its own cruise missiles, which, according to the Japanese media, will surpass the American Tomahawks by their capabilities. Finally, the most recent sensation is the report of the same media that Japan intends to buy American F-35B fighters for placing its helicopter carriers on the decks. These ships, in fact, are in fact transformed into aircraft carriers, whose possession, like other types of offensive weapons, is prohibited by the so-called peaceful constitution of Japan. The rapid growth of Japanese military potential that is occurring before our eyes will be received without enthusiasm in China, South Korea and other countries of the region. In 2018, they will actively discuss the thesis of the revival of Japanese militarism.

But for Japan itself, to date, the United States of America is the "cornerstone" of its security policy. The unexpected arrival at the beginning of 2017 in the office of US President Donald Trump initially caused great concern in Tokyo over the military alliance with this country. But over the past year, this alliance has strengthened both qualitatively and quantitatively and will remain in the future a major factor in the international political situation in East Asia. At the same time, bilateral US-Japan relations will be overshadowed by the huge US trade deficit in trade with Japan and the problem of US withdrawal from the emerging trade bloc, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP).

The balance of contradictions and cooperation between Japan and China - the two largest economic powers of Asia - will largely determine the economic and security situation in the East Asian region for the foreseeable future. Since returning to the 2012 Prime Minister’s Office, Shinzo Abe has spent much of his diplomatic efforts to form an anti-Chinese network of countries around China that could hold back a growing power in the region. This is happening against the background of the cooling of relations between Tokyo and Beijing, which sometimes heats up because of their territorial dispute in the East China Sea. However, at the same time, the Abe administration, in parallel with building the anti-Chinese coalition in the Pacific and Indian oceans, is aggressively seeking the possibility of a substantial straightening of relations with Beijing through constant dialogue at various levels and in various fields, such as security, and cooperation in the field of economics and environmental protection. . Perhaps in the coming year, the Japanese Prime Minister’s dream will come true to accept the Chinese leader Xi Jinping at home, and in a year to go to the PRC himself.

The crisis on the Korean peninsula in 2018 and in subsequent years will be one of the main factors of Tokyo's external strategy in East Asia. Along with the so-called threat from China, which is building up its military potential and naval activity, as already noted, Japan considers the nuclear missile potential of North Korea to be the greatest challenge to its own security. In recent months, Tokyo has inflated its rhetoric about the North Korean danger to, perhaps, an unprecedented level. This rhetoric is accompanied by full-scale preparations to repulse a nuclear missile attack from North Korea. In this case, outside the framework of rhetoric, as a rule, there remain estimates of the reality of such an attack. Tokyo will continue to pursue with North Korea a policy of increasing pressure by economic and military levers to force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear-missile potential. The so-called North Korean nuclear missile threat is also one of Japan's main arguments in favor of building up its own military capabilities, as well as strengthening the alliance with the United States.

Japan’s relations with South Korea in the coming year will remain rather complicated, despite the fact that both countries are the most important military allies of the United States. Two, so to speak, difficult to extract spikes of this relationship are the problems of "women of comfort" and the territorial dispute over the Takeshima Islands (Tokdo, in Korean). With President Moon Zhe Ina taking power in South Korea, the differences in the approaches of Tokyo and Seoul to North Korea have become more noticeable. Abe demands that Pyongyang be treated as harshly as possible without any dialogue, and Moon doesn’t rule out dialogue. Their patron in the person of Washington will try next year to do everything possible so that its two most important military pillars in the region will not be loosened by bilateral fights.

ASEAN member countries and other states of Southeast Asia will continue to be one of the priorities of Tokyo’s foreign policy and economic activities in the region. One of the peculiarities of Japan’s policy in Southeast Asia is associated with the growing role of Vietnam in this subregion. This country, in recent years, is beginning to play an increasingly significant role in the international economy and politics in East Asia. Vietnam is visibly transforming for Tokyo not only into another bridgehead for conquering new heights in the economic space of Southeast Asia, but also as a major partner in confronting China in its territorial claims in East Asia. Moreover, the other Japanese support in the region, represented by the Philippines, is becoming less reliable in the light of the country's President Rodrigo Duterte’s readiness to come closer to China, on the one hand, and moving away from the traditional American ally, on the other.

The alignment of forces in a triangle consisting of such leading powers of the region as Russia, Japan and China, both in the coming year and in the foreseeable future, will increasingly influence the military-political situation not only in East Asia, but in all Indo-Pacific region. This alignment of forces, in turn, largely depends on the characteristics of the bilateral relationship between the vertices of the triangle.

Relations between Japan and India in the last decade are beginning to become an increasingly important factor in the political and economic situation in East Asia. In particular, this is manifested in the rebalancing of the relations of the three leading Asian powers - China, Japan and India. One of the directions of this rebalancing is the complex rapprochement between Japan and India, which is taking place at such a pace that it is already possible to talk about the folding of the new Tokyo-New Delhi axis in the basin of the two oceans - Pacific and Indian. This new structure formally transcends the geographic framework of East Asia, but its significance for the Asian region in the future will only increase. One of the factors contributing to the creation of the axis are concerns about the growing economic and military power of China shared in both capitals. This trend will continue in 2018 year.

As for Japan's economic relations with the countries of East Asia, the problem of the Trans-Pacific partnership, the establishment of which is currently being negotiated, comes to the fore here. As early as next year, the TTP could become the leading trade and economic agreement in the Pacific basin despite the emergence of a key player in the face of the United States. To ensure that the TTP remains viable and ensure its implementation, Japan in 2018 will do everything possible to take the lead in this emerging structure. TTP is extremely necessary for Tokyo, and from the point of view of the effective implementation of the economic course, called Abonomy.

Finally, Russian-Japanese relations are becoming an increasingly important component of the system of international relations in East Asia. Russia and Japan have become very close in politics since 2016, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proclaimed Tokyo's "new approach" to relations with Moscow. Despite the significant cooling of Russia's relations with the US and other leading Western countries that imposed sanctions on Russia over the Crimea and Ukraine, 2017 was marked by active exchanges between Russia and Japan, both in the political and economic spheres. Close personal contacts between Abe and Putin allowed to conduct almost continuously a dialogue on the joint development of the four islands of the southern Kuriles (northern territories, according to Japanese terminology) claimed by Tokyo.

Already in May 2018, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will once again come to Russia to continue territorial negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and at the same time to open cross-cultural years between Russia and Japan from each other. It's funny that the May meeting in the next year of President Putin and Prime Minister Abe was unconditionally announced by Russian officials not only long before the presidential elections in March of 2018, but even before Putin announced his nomination as a candidate in this election.

However, the prospects for resolving the territorial issue in relations between the two countries remain unclear. In connection with this, it is not yet possible to make any predictions regarding the conclusion of a peace treaty between them. In light of the above, the hieroglyph 北 has one more reason to be the main symbol of an indefinite number of forthcoming years. After all, the term 北方 領土 - northern territories begins with it. Namely their Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe promises to return the country during the life of the current generation.

Happy New Year!
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