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Russia-Japan: 2 + 2 =?

How the two countries prepare for the leaders' meeting in April

The first month of spring in Russian-Japanese relations was marked by a series of diplomatic meetings that were the result of the agreement of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the summit last December in the Land of the Rising Sun. All of them were held in Tokyo.

Russia-Japan: 2 + 2 =?

Valery Kistanov

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies
On March 18, at the level of deputy foreign ministers, the prospects for joint economic activities in the four southern Kuril Islands were discussed. They are claimed by Japan, calling them their "northern territories". On March 20, a 2 + 2 meeting was held with the participation of the Foreign and Defense Ministers. At the meeting, issues of international security were discussed and measures in the field of military cooperation were outlined. The final chord was the "strategic dialogue" held on March 30 between the first deputy heads of the foreign affairs agencies. Practically all areas of cooperation between Russia and Japan were touched upon during it. The three events did not solve the key problems in relations between the two countries, but became a prelude to the next meeting of their leaders, scheduled in Russia on April 27-28.

Restored format

Among the three events, the talks in the "2 + 2" format were of the greatest interest both in Russia and in Japan. At them, in addition to discussing the security situation in the Asia-Pacific and other regions of the world, the parties exchanged proposals for joint economic activities in the southern Kuriles, which the leaders of the two countries agreed on at the December summit in Japan.

In assessing the past negotiations, the Japanese media indicate that their resumption more than three years later means an improvement in bilateral ties between Russia and Japan, which for a long time have been complicated by the territorial dispute over four islands north of Hokkaido. And the negotiations themselves, according to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan Fumio Kishida, should help accelerate progress in this dispute, which does not make it possible to sign a peace treaty between the two countries in order to officially draw a line under the Second World War.

In addition, Japanese experts emphasize the fact that the 2 + 2 format was revived at the initiative of Russia during last year's rendezvous between Putin and Abe. According to these experts, this manifested Moscow's desire to improve ties with Tokyo in order to balance its increasing slide into the status of a pariah in the world community after the “annexation” of Crimea by Russia in 2014. They believe that for Russia, conducting a dialogue on security is unilaterally beneficial, since it can serve as proof of the lack of unity of the Western countries in pursuing their cruel course against Russia.

The Japanese press also focus on the fact that the meeting within the framework of this format made Japan the first country from the Group of Seven (G-7), which began to carry out such negotiations with Russia after Russia "requisitioned" the Crimean peninsula. However, so that no one had doubts and criticism about Tokyo's actions, an official representative of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, as if justifying himself, said at a press conference after the 2 + 2 meeting that the country “appreciates the rule of law and will not tolerate any attempts by Moscow change the status quo by force. "

Mutual Concerns

At the same time, according to the largest Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, in the tense security situation in East Asia, Japan and Russia should seek cooperation in those areas where their interests coincide. Special risks in this regard are associated with the situation on the Korean Peninsula and, above all, with the build-up of the DPRK's nuclear missile potential, which runs counter to the resolutions of the UN Security Council. The Russian and Japanese sides agreed that Pyongyang must comply with all UN Security Council resolutions on this score.

However, Japanese analysts expressed dissatisfaction with Sergei Lavrov's statement that sanctions should be viewed not as an instrument of punishing the DPRK, but as an incentive to return the situation to a political negotiation channel. Tokyo, which considers the nuclear missile threat from North Korea to be the biggest challenge to Japan's security, for its part, considers these sanctions only as an instrument of pressure on the North Korean regime in order to force it to unilaterally abandon the improvement of its nuclear missile technologies. At the same time, Japanese experts believe that in order to contain Pyongyang, an exchange of information and proposals for joint actions between Moscow and Tokyo is necessary.

During the talks, Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada protested against the deployment of anti-ship missiles by Russia in the southern Kuriles and plans to deploy a division in the Kuril Islands by the end of the year. Her Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, explained in response that the new division would be aimed not against someone, but to protect the territory of the Russian Federation, its borders, both from the sea and from the air. However, the mouthpiece of Japan's nationalist circles, the Sankei Shimbun newspaper, took an uncompromising position in this regard. According to the newspaper, Russia has no right to place not a single soldier on the four islands, which are the original Japanese territories, and Foreign Ministers Fumio Kishida and Defense Ministers Tomomi Inada had to insist on the withdrawal of Russian troops from the islands.

For their part, Russian representatives expressed serious concern over the plans to deploy elements of the US global anti-missile defense (ABM) in the AP region. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the serious risks it poses. In his opinion, this is a "disproportionate response" to possible threats from North Korea. And the head of the Russian Defense Ministry, Sergei Shoigu, expressed concern about the elements of the American missile defense system deployed on Japanese territory. According to him, this could upset the strategic balance in the APR.

It should be noted that Japan has its own missile defense network, which includes destroyers equipped with the American Aegis missile defense system and the Patriot ground missile defense system. Japan and the United States are closely cooperating in the field of improving missile defense. Ironically, after the March 2 + 2 talks between Russia and Japan in April, Japan and the United States intend to hold talks in the same format. According to information from Japanese government sources, Tokyo plans to give priority to improving its own missile defense system in cooperation with the United States. The Japanese government is considering the possibility of additional commissioning of ships equipped with the Aegis system as a means of strengthening its missile defense system. It is also exploring the possibility of deploying the latest American missile defense system THAAD and the ground-based Aegis missile defense system on its territory. It should be noted that at the beginning of the year, the United States began deploying the THAAD system in South Korea, which caused an extremely negative reaction from Beijing and sharply exacerbated relations between China and South Korea.

In response to concerns expressed by Russian ministers, Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said that the missile defense system located in Japan is intended solely to protect the country from the nuclear missile threat from North Korea and is not directed against Russia. However, the same "Sankei Shimbun" criticized this statement of the Japanese minister, calling it strange. The newspaper puts the question bluntly: shouldn't this missile defense be directed against the nuclear missile potential of Russia and China? The answer to this question at the end of March was given by Lieutenant General Viktor Poznikhir, Deputy Chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces. At the disarmament conference in Geneva, he bluntly stated: "Under the pretext of countering North Korean and Iranian missile threats, the United States is deploying a strategic system designed to destroy Russian and Chinese ballistic missiles, upsetting the balance of containment forces."

The China factor

According to Japanese media reports, during the Russian-Japanese dialogue within the framework of "2 + 2" on the initiative of the Japanese side, Chinese topics were also touched upon. This was quite expected, since today, not only in the calculations of Japanese politicians and analysts, but also in official documents of Japan, China is presented as the number one threat to its security. In fact, the "2 + 2" format was created at the initiative of Tokyo in 2013, primarily with the aim of discussing the possibility of jointly containing Moscow with Moscow, which, according to Japanese political scientists, poses a military threat not only to Japan, but also to Russia. Then the Japanese thesis about the need to jointly confront the "Chinese threat" did not receive support from the Russian negotiators.

Regarding the resumption of negotiations in the specified format, the aforementioned Sankei Shimbun repeats this thesis, claiming that the goal of rapprochement between Japan and Russia is to "contain China." However, the newspaper admits, it must be borne in mind that this is not so easy to implement. The publication is echoed by the Japan Times, which writes: “While Japan views the resumption of the 2 + 2 talks between the foreign and defense ministers of both countries as a way to drive a wedge between Moscow and Beijing, which have strengthened ties following Moscow's annexation of Crimea, Russia does not want to break its special partnership with China, which is its dominant investor. "

At the talks in the 2 + 2 format this year, the leitmotif of the Japanese side's statements to China was concern over further rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing, primarily in the field of military cooperation. Thus, Tomomi Inada expressed concern over the transfer of the latest S-400 missile defense system and other modern weapons by Russia to China. The Japanese side also expressed concern about China's growing naval expansion in the East China and South China Seas. However, according to Japanese media reports, the Russian side withdrew from discussing this topic.

However, it would be wrong to believe that the meeting of the four ministers of the two countries on security issues ended in an ineffectual exchange of views, and each side "remained with its own people." According to Sergei Shoigu, Moscow and Tokyo have established contacts through the General Staffs and will hold 2017 bilateral events in 30. In particular, joint exercises of warships of both countries are planned to counter piracy, terrorism, etc. This will undoubtedly help deepen mutual understanding between the military of both countries and improve the atmosphere in bilateral relations between Russia and Japan in general.

Looking for legal consensus

At the bilateral diplomatic events of the last March, much attention was paid to the joint economic activities of Russia and Japan in the southern Kuriles. In the mutual opinion of the parties, its implementation should become an important step towards resolving the territorial issue and signing a peace treaty between the countries. As reported by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, Russia has proposed 26 joint projects for implementation on these islands. Among them, the newspaper highlights salmon and trout farming, the construction of enterprises for the processing of marine products and markets for its sale, the creation of wind and geothermal power plants, the construction and repair of housing. The Russian list also includes the operation of vessels intended for amateur fishermen, etc.

The Russian proposals largely coincide with 30 Japanese projects, which also include the processing of marine products and the construction of geothermal stations. In terms of seafood, Japan offers breeding of the highly demanded sea urchins and scallops in its domestic market. In addition, the Japanese set of proposals includes Japanese physicians of remote health services to residents of the four South Kuril Islands. At the request of their former Japanese inhabitants, the package also includes the organization of sea tourist cruises around the islands and the establishment of charter flights from the island of Hokkaido, where they now live, to the islands of Kunashir and Iturup.

By the summit of Putin and Abe in late April, the parties are supposed to work out a common list of joint projects. However, today, perhaps the most difficult issue of joint management in the Kuril Islands is the legal basis on which it should be implemented. Here the positions of Russia and Japan fundamentally differ. During last year's summit in Japan, Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov stressed that such activities should be conducted in accordance with Russian law. But after the meeting, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe repeatedly said that joint economic activities should be carried out on the basis of laws that are not Russian, though not Japanese. In his opinion, it can be implemented within the framework of a kind of "special system" that will not harm the sovereignty of both countries over the islands.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in an interview with the newspaper "Argumenty i Fakty" on March 29, referring to joint activities with Japan in the southern Kuriles, unambiguously stated: "The Russian Foreign Ministry - in close cooperation with other relevant Russian departments - is intensively working with in order to select really economically significant projects, the implementation of which would contribute to the socio-economic development of the southern Kuril Islands, would bring tangible benefits to the population of adjacent Russian and Japanese regions. At the same time, the legal framework for the implementation of such projects should not contradict Russian legislation. This is the fundamental criterion for the implementation of joint economic activities. "

Obviously, such an approach is unacceptable for Japan, because, as its officials have repeatedly stated, agreeing with it would mean Japan's recognition of Russian sovereignty over its "northern territories", which contradicts Tokyo's principled position. This position was once again openly voiced on its pages by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, which writes: “Joint economic activity is intended solely to create conditions for the return of the northern territories. Any compromise that can accept Russia's illegal occupation of territories as a fait accompli will be absolutely impossible. It is important for our country to constantly negotiate with Russia, without conflicting with its own principle concerning the territories, so that a common ground can be found in the positions of Japan and Russia. "

The upcoming talks between President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in April will show how far the parties can move in their search for this foundation. At any rate, the Japan Times claims, citing its sources, that the Japanese prime minister is planning to visit Russia on April 27-28 in his efforts to achieve a breakthrough in the decades-old territorial dispute between the two countries.
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