Country Report: Japan (October 2015)
The shadow of history hung over Japan in the late summer as Abe’s statement was debated, the seventieth anniversary of the war’s end passed on August 15, and Xi Jinping commemorated the same anniversary on September 3. Various bilateral relations were put in historical context, as was the march to collective self-defense laws that preoccupied the Japanese public through much of September. There was no finality to these developments. Unlike the fiftieth or sixtieth anniversary statements by Japan’s prime ministers, whose contents brought to a climax debates about what would be said and what responses would result, historical memories lingered in discussions about national security, diplomatic conditionality, and the public’s consciousness.
On August 16, Asahi Shimbun asked when people think Japan’s “postwar” ended. In contrast to a quarter of respondents (excluding those who dismissed the concept) who said it has already ended and another eighth who regard 2015 as the year it is ending, over 60 percent insisted that it is continuing. Readers of this newspaper at least are reluctant not only to see the end of the Cold War as a turning point but also to accept that Japan is changing course in relations with its neighbors or rethinking its Constitution. That same day the paper found a basis for hope in the avoidance by China of strong language in response to Abe’s statement as it looked to improve ties, and in South Korea’s clear concern for improving relations as Park prepares for her October visit to Washington. Reporting also on media criticisms, including in the West, of the statement, Asahi had it both ways: the statement was disappointing, but there is an improving atmosphere for relations with Japan’s Asian neighbors.
Yomiuri Shimbun on August 16 was more glowing about the totally positive US response and more qualified in reporting the restrained South Korean and Chinese responses, pointing to Park’s insistence on one-sided Japanese concessions on the “comfort women” issue and China’s unjustified demand for more apologies. It called for tightening ties to the United States, Australia, and others that highly valued the statement based on shared historical consciousness—seemingly the key to security. Tokyo Shimbun on the same day credited Park with eagerness to improve relations and to resolve the “comfort women” issue by year’s end and Xi with a sharp change of course due to a slowing economy, which makes cooperation with Japan essential. Sankei that day put it most bluntly: Park is prioritizing economics over history. The mood in Japan was more upbeat about foreign relations than it had been for a while, but history continued to cast a shadow in light of sharp divisions over security laws.
Kawashima Shin in nippon.com on August 14 was one of many putting relations in historical perspective, covering not only Abe’s reinterpretation of the period to 1945, but also Xi Jinping’s July 2014 speech in Seoul, seeking a shared Sino-ROK outlook on Japan, the ongoing effort in 2015 of Xi and Putin to perpetuate a shared view “disrespecting” Japan, and Japan’s response in this “history war.” There was no sense that the Abe statement brought any finality. Instead, Japanese conservatives saw it as a response to an intensifying struggle over how to put current trends in a broad context, in which they anticipated more attacks and also vigorous responses. As the baton was passed in August from an obsession over history to a battle over security, the tendency to emphasize a broad context did not diminish, although the context that was showcased often deviated sharply from what is common in the West on both history to 1945 and the diverse strategic challenges in the 2010s. This is most problematic for South Korea, for which Abe’s vindication of the Russo-Japan War and Japan’s heroic image inspiring Asian peoples, as discussed in Chuo Koron of October by Yamauchi Masayuki and Sato Masaru, flies squarely in the face of its deep resentment over Japan’s annexation and colonialism, not liberation. Even as South Koreans were reconciled to more pragmatic cooperation with Abe, they did not regard his handling of history as respectful of their country or helpful for trust.
Miura Ruri in the October issue of Seiron discussed the collective self-defense laws in the context of anti-American thinking on the left and the right, part of a “domestic cold war” that has been reenergized. She traced it to the contradiction between the two postwar pillars of a pacifist constitution and the Japan-US alliance, which was not easily explained to the people as it lingered for decades. The new laws, she said, will increase Japan’s international contributions and trust in the alliance, without really changing Japan’s strategic policies much, given the three conditions set for invoking collective self-defense and changes that had already occurred in the late 1990s, notably in response to North Korea. Yet, given technical changes in the nature of warfare, the rising role of values in alliances, and the multitude of US alliances and defense partnerships, Miura sees the laws as urgent for building Japan-US trust. For trust there must be mutual sacrifice. While, she argues, this step should have been taken in the late 1990s, Japanese public opinion was not ready. The “arc of freedom and prosperity” theme in the mid-2000s also came before the public was ready. One problem was the split in the conservative camp between pro and anti-Americans, as the latter focused not only on security, but on economics and culture. Miura asserts that the Abe administration’s greatest mission is to overcome such grassroots views. She links them to a lack of internationalism and to deep attitudes toward national character. Rather than stress the opposition of progressives to the new laws, Miura points to the split within the conservative camp centered on the distrust of globalism despite the fact that there is no alternative in the world of security to strengthening the alliance. For her, the history of the postwar period is still playing out; views of the United States and internationalism are slow to evolve.
In the digital Japanese edition of Newsweek on September 18, Hosoya Yuichi sought to shift the debate on collective self-defense, while supporting the demonstrations that opposed it as proper expression of thought in a democratic society. Contrasting these gatherings to earlier demonstrations in Japan, which were at times violent and organized by political parties, Hosoya finds many students involved in what is an expression of new political participation healthy for a democracy. Yet, appealing for constructive opposition, despite his own support for the legislation, he expresses concern over the danger of “performance” without genuine policy discussions. In the absence of a middle-of-the-road liberal axis, he warns of one-sidedness, drawing a parallel with pro-war demonstrations that flared in Japan after the Russo-Japanese War and arguing that the legacy of postwar pacifism has led to the opposite extreme of anti-war demonstrations, which also lack constructive thinking for managing the international relations challenges of an era. Amid Diet and media polarization, he is affirming the need for healthy, informed debate in the spirit of a true democracy. Again, Japan’s problems are traced to deep-rooted historical conditions or patterns.
In the October 4 Yomiuri Shimbun, Hosoya reviewed the two debates that rocked Japan over the summer and asked if sober discussion was now possible. The Abe statement was an answer to the question Abe had raised about what kind of a nation Japan would be, and Hosoya concludes, Abe has reaffirmed the Murayama statement and committed Japan to universal values. More contentious was the debate over the security-related laws, and, Hosoya finds, after a revival of the Cold War ideological confrontation over national security, the issue has now been resolved despite vocal opposition. Answering the question what next, he posits two time frames: since 1989, when there has been an intensification of conflict over values, different from conflict over national interests, in the midst of globalization and the rise of non-state actors, forcing fundamental changes in national security policy; and since 1945, as Japan has struggled to recognize the trends of the time, embracing internationalism, unlike pre-1945. Hosoya praises Abe’s achievements in doing this, but warns that more must be done to respect the spirit of internationalism and ensure that Japan occupies an honored place in international society, as stated in its Constitution.
Hosoya was not done analyzing the impact of the new security laws, linking them to Japan’s “proactive contribution to peace” in the September Gaiko. Taking exception to a dichotomy between postwar Japan as a “peace country” versus a state threatening other states, he calls for strategic thinking on how to maintain peace, requiring both diplomacy and military power. He stresses the need to have sufficient defense forces to negotiate, citing the challenge of the Philippines in facing China’s aggression. He adds that Japan cannot isolate itself from world currents and only think about its own security. The security debate ahead should focus on how Japan should behave as a responsible member of international society, Hosoya concludes, again insisting that the security laws, not the opposition’s logic, lead Japan along this desired path.
As Japanese debated passing the collective self-defense laws, Hakamada Shigeki in Sankei Shimbun’s Seiron on August 18 charged that Japan more than any other state suffers from the post Cold War syndrome of excessive illusions left behind from an era of preoccupation with two camps opposing each other, assuming that history’s main actors—states, nations, and religions—would remain quiet. He sees this legacy leading to liberal optimism about an emerging world of citizens rather than of bad states and armies. Instead, Hakamada finds that the end of the Cold War opened a Pandora’s box of disorder through the reappearance of these old forces, but the syndrome meant that Japanese were not prepared to sacrifice or to bear a burden. Putin’s actions in annexing Crimea and building up military forces on the Northern Territories, China’s actions in the South China Sea, and North Korea’s brandishing of nuclear weapons seem to be less feared than their own government by Japanese, he concludes, challenging the lethargy in Japanese thinking left from the Cold War era.
Whether the problem is South Korean thinking about Japan, Chinese and Russian views of the world, or Japanese unpreparedness to deal with the tensions around them, recent writings highlight historical explanations and memories. Shaking off the cobwebs of outdated thinking or the arousal of nationalist reinterpretations of history stands in the forefront of recommendations appearing in Japanese media.
South Korea-China Relations
Park’s decision whether or not to attend the September 3 gala and parade in Beijing drew interest in Tokyo in late August. Although Park’s reaction to the Abe statement was muted, the absence of any salve to Seoul left doubts about whether an Abe-Park summit could be scheduled without progress on the “comfort women” issue. Yet, the Koreans soon were signaling that a China-Japan-Korean (CJK) summit could bring this about, which served to justify Park’s trip. Japanese media were skeptical. Yomiuri Shimbun on August 21 said that Park was being urged to go by those who saw good relations with China as her only foreign policy achievement, adding that on September 4 a ceremony would mark the reopening of the Shanghai home of the Korean independence movement against Japanese colonial rule, which Park would attend. On August 29, the same paper asked where is South Korea heading, noting that Park would attend a huge military parade of a country that never apologized for invading Korea from 1950-1953, while Koreans concoct stories about Abe’s militarism. That day, Sankei Shimbun reported the Japanese government’s criticism of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s planned attendance at the parade, saying it serves to legitimize China’s military expansionism. Sankei wrote that Xinhua’s call for Japan’s emperor to apologize for the war could be a sign that Beijing and Seoul are colluding in anti-Japan attacks. On September 3, Sankei again insisted that such collusion was occurring, isolating Seoul not just from Tokyo but from the United States and the major states of the European Union. On September 6, Sankei stressed Seoul’s “balance” between Washington and Beijing and its ambition to be a bridge. In contrast, on September 3, Yomiuri Shimbun recognized that with Park and Xi both set to visit Washington soon, they were eager to dispel doubts about their meeting and, given current economic difficulties, to move soon toward a CJK summit, even if Beijing also regarded Park’s visit as a great success in its effort to drive a wedge in the Japan-US-ROK triangle. Ignoring the US role in WWII, Xi is trying to exclude it from the Asian order. Stressing along with Russia the “anti-fascist” war victory, the event showcased how these countries are different, while linking one-sided actions in the East and South China seas and Ukraine. The article also insists that Park’s words suggest that on history Seoul leans to Beijing. On September 4, Yomiuri editorialized that Xi was showcasing military power and challenging the international order. It rejected the claim that China was not targeting today’s Japan, expressing relief that Abe chose not to attend the ceremony.
On September 18, the journal Wedge reported on Park’s September 3 visit to Beijing, linking it to the “honeymoon” in Sino-ROK relations and questions bound to be raised about her values in October when she visits Washington. It focused on scenes of Xi, Putin, and Park all in a row at the parade and asked why Park went to a third country to criticize Japan, stressing that her presence at this event planned to commemorate the anti-Japan war had this meaning for today’s Japan. Given recent Chinese military actions and the presence of Putin after aggression in Ukraine, Park was the only leader of a US ally, apart from the Czech president, who had attended, readers are told. Citing South Korean media, the article noted the contrast with the military parade in the same square in 1954, when Mao and Kim Il-sung sat together, symbolizing for South Koreans a shift in China’s ties from North to South Korea. Moreover, among the visiting leaders, Xi had only invited Park to lunch, choosing her for exceptional treatment. The article observed that at the parade around Park were seated autocrats and a Sudanese war criminal, putting her in a bad light. The image is of Xi wooing Park, and she acquiescing and agreeing to be pulled towards China.
Wedge asserted that China had planned on events lasting two days, and South Korea had indicated that Park would participate only on the day when there would be no military parade. When China shortened the event to one day, it became unrealistic for only Park to miss the ceremony. She agreed for two reasons: North Korea and economics. The article conceded China’s influence over the North, but it warned that Japanese officials insist that Beijing and Seoul have completely different notions of reunification, and some in Seoul understand this. Yet, after the landmine incident in late August and North Korean threats, it became more difficult to explain why Park would not go to Beijing. As for economic relations, the article stated that it is said that the foundation of Seoul’s diplomacy is security—the United States—and economy—China—, adding that this would not be the cause for Park’s attendance. It is not for economics that Seoul is pulling away from its ally and Tokyo, one is told.
After Park decided to go to Beijing, Foreign Minister Yun went to Anchorage as the only Asian foreign minister at the Arctic Council meeting, seeking to explain to John Kerry why she was going. Subsequently, the Park administration explained that it had consulted closely with the Obama administration before and after the visit in an effort to clear away any image of tilting towards China. The Wedge article points to China’s special treatment for Park and the upbeat coverage in the Korean media as arousing strong voices of concern in Seoul about the reactions in Washington and Tokyo. It cites conservative newspapers warning of this concern and Hankyoreh praising the balanced diplomacy that would now raise South Korea’s international voice. Clearly this visit has aroused expectations among some and strong doubts among others.
A final section in the Wedge article noted that on September 14 North Korea had indicated that it was planning a missile launch in conjunction with its October 10 celebrations, which would be a violation of a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution and a provocation. It saw such a launch as a test of the degree of cooperation with China. With Park due to meet Obama on October 16 and, possibly, Abe two weeks later on the sidelines of a CJK summit, the doubts aroused by her Beijing visit would be tested in the degree of coordination she demonstrated with Obama and Abe on North Korea. Given the high interest in family reunions in South Korea following the August 25 agreement, she would be in a difficult position in responding to North Korea’s missile test. The article sees Park raising her popularity back above 50 percent, but she now faces difficult challenges in shifting from Beijing to Washington and Tokyo and from an agreement with North Korea to a coordinated response to its coming provocation.
Japan-South Korea Relations
The driving force in East Asia is China. Dividing lines are separating those with very different views of China’s intentions and how best to respond. The most far-reaching split is between Japan and South Korea—few in Tokyo think that China is benign or polarization in Asia can be avoided, while few in Seoul think that a hardline policy to China is justified, even anticipating that shared global governance is within reach. In Japanese writings, as Korean ones, the tendency is to see the other side’s thinking as a reflection of something fundamentally wrong with its politics, history, and culture. The split between Tokyo and Seoul is clearly registered in Japanese publications.
Park Cheolhee on September 13 in Tokyo Shimbun tried to calm Japanese concerns on South Korea, stressing that as long as the North Korea question looms there is no likelihood that ROK-US relations will weaken, and despite China’s strategy to split Tokyo and Seoul, on military matters there will be Japan-US-ROK linkage, while on economic matters a more cooperative CJK framework will advance. The CJK summit in mid-fall, he predicts, will be the starting point of an East Asian order, in which a functional cooperation system advances as a decisive confrontation is avoided. The implication is Seoul is prepared for this duality and does not want intensification of Sino-Japanese opposition, but Tokyo is blaming Seoul in disregard of this situation.
On September 15, Foresight carried an article about the Japan-South Korea Forum, which met in Seoul at the end of August, shortly before Park’s travel to Beijing. In spite of the closed-door nature of this annual get-together of academics, politicians, journalists, and etc., the article finds much to cover. In the panel on 50 years of bilateral relations, where views on the Abe statement were exchanged, Koreans remarked on how South Korea was excluded, but otherwise, made no strong criticisms. Given the inclusion of “keywords” and Park’s measured reaction, the article views responses to the statement as setting the stage for a breakthrough in bilateral relations. As for Park’s decision to attend the military parade, Koreans explained that Japanese need not be aroused, since this was about North Korea, not Japan; however, during breaks some voiced personal opposition to the visit and recognized that it would not be a plus for relations with Seoul. Surprising to the author was the hosting by Foreign Minister Yun Byon-se, who is considered a hardliner to Japan. About to leave for Alaska to secure Kerry’s support for Park’s visit, Yun went out of his way to focus on improving ROK-Japan relations and shook hands with about forty Forum members. Acknowledging concern on the Japanese side about Park’s visit, he pledged to strive to reduce the minuses from the visit to a minimum and to maximize the forward-looking results. Arguing that Sino-ROK relations are at their best, which is a plus for peace in Northeast Asia and for Korean reunification, he added that a result of Park’s visit would be a forward-looking CJK summit. Moreover, he stressed that the ROK-US tie is the strongest it has been under any past regime; so why are people saying that Seoul is leaning to Beijing? Arguing that Seoul seeks to be a bridge between the United States and Japan on one side and China on the other, he asked that a message be passed to the Japanese government that it should not be concerned. Seoul seeks a positive atmosphere for Japan relations more than at any time since Park took office.
The Bungei Shunju October issue carried the views of Niwa Uichiro, ambassador to China in 2010-2012, and Muto Masatoshi, ambassador to South Korea over almost the same period, under the headline “The Offensive War with Anti-Japan Countries of Former Ambassadors to China and South Korea.” Each official saw relations sink in 2012, while being targeted at home as pro-China or weak on Korea. Niwa was the first non-diplomat to be chosen as ambassador to Beijing at age 71 after about 40 years of experience doing business with China, while Muto was the first “Korean school” choice as ambassador to Seoul. Each recounted tough times, present at turning points when relations deteriorated and the anti-Japan mood intensified. Both regret how voices on the ground were marginalized in favor of those of one group in the Foreign Ministry, as in the handling in September 2012 of the Senkaku nationalization. Muto deplores Seoul’s insistence on its position only, ignoring international rules and laws on the “comfort women” issue, as in allowing a statue to be constructed in front of the Japanese Embassy in December 2012. He describes China and Korea as Confucian countries focused on hierarchy, which Japan was seen as violating, while adding that although elements of culture in these states and Japan are similar, their cultures are completely different. Niwa bemoans the fact that many Chinese focus on the image of Japan as a bloodthirsty invader, while Japanese going to study in China also have negative stereotypes. Consciousness shaped by emotions is blamed for casting a dark cloud in Sino-Japanese relations. Muto observes that the positive mood in South Korea of assistance after the East Japan earthquake in March 2011 turned sour after the Japanese government conveyed its view on Takeshima in new textbooks, arguing that now Japan-ROK relations are more difficult than Japan-China relations, to the point that no matter what South Korea says many Japanese are opposed, feeling a sense of abandoning South Korea. Muto adds that Japanese are failing to understand trade opportunities, e.g., transit through Busan as a way to take advantage of the China-ROK free trade agreement (FTA). Niwa points to a decline in the number of Japanese who are knowledgeable about China and South Korea, noting that there is no lively student exchange as between China and the United States. Muto mentions that South Koreans want to study in the United States or China, unlike the past when many went to Japan. Yet, the two former
ambassadors find that economic troubles in China now leave no room for anti-Japan talk, opening an opportunity for Japanese diplomacy and that over the summer Seoul has shifted somewhat toward Tokyo, but Niwa asserts that Abe’s statement had many messages for Beijing but slighted Seoul, as if improving ties with the former is the answer for the latter. Muto concludes that a stronger Japanese economy and military as well as more exchanges are critical for improvement in relations with Seoul. The title of the article distorts the reflections of these former ambassadors aimed at mutual efforts to improve relations.
The August 25 North-South agreement aroused skepticism in Japan. On August 26, Yomiuri Shimbun wrote that an isolated North saw a possibility for economic gain. It would seek a relaxation of economic sanctions. Mention of Kumgang Mountain led to concern about tourism there resuming. While South Korean papers lauded the agreement as better than expected and Yomiuri reported that the government saw it as a great success, emphasis was put on Chinese pressure on Pyongyang that made this possible, noting a phone call from Wu Dawei on August 21 as China promised to play a constructive role and made clear its opposition to actions that raise tensions as it responded to a US appeal to make positive efforts. Yomiuri contrasts China’s “neutral” position with its responses in 2010 to the North’s aggression, obliging the North in order to avoid further isolation to follow China’s guide. When an official from North Korea goes to Beijing on September 3, relations may improve, it added. Yet, its editorial cast no blame on Seoul and nodded approvingly to Abe’s policy of “dialogue and pressure,” waiting to see if Pyongyang’s stance toward Tokyo would change. The impact seems to have been to reinforce a sense of common interests. In Sankei Shimbun of August 23, however, it was stressed that Russia’s response in opposition to US-ROK military exercises leans to North Korea and that China may be tough on North Korea to save “face” for Xi’s September 3 event and to forestall more US intervention on the peninsula. Asahi Shimbun of August 24 gave Pyongyang some credit for raising tensions with the goal of getting dialogue with an unyielding Seoul.
On August 8, Sankei carried a response to the Kuala Lumpur meeting of Japanese and North Korean foreign ministers, arguing that the North does not want to end the dialogue in the hope that it can split the US-Japan-ROK encirclement, while Japan is again waiting for a response on the abductee issue. The article claims that within the Japanese government there are voices for offering assistance to the North, but if no report on the abductees is presented by the end of September, the view of switching to the path of pressure will again prevail. That same day, its editorial called for Abe to strengthen sanctions, even as he keeps the focus on returning hostages. A month later on September 7, Sankei saw China giving the cold shoulder to the North Korean official at the September 3 event, who returned that same day without a high-level meeting. China was dissatisfied with the low level of the North’s representative, and relations continue to suffer from the late 2013 execution of the pro-China faction’s Jang Sung-taek. Writings were not looking ahead to what might occur after a new missile launch, as they concentrated on the seeming stalemate with Pyongyang.
Media stories about Russian statements and its new development plan for the area encompassing the Northern Territories painted a sober picture. Yomiuri Shimbun on August 12 reported that after the population on these four islands had dropped in the 1990s from 13,600 to about 6,000, by 2014 it had already risen to about 11,000, and now the aim is to surpass 24,000 in 2025. The number of Central Asians and North Koreans in construction projects has been growing, and the amount of money planned for the ten-year plan is about USD 1.2 billion, this paper reported. On August 23, Sankei Shimbun noted that Russia is calling for investments in the Kurile Islands, including these four, from China, South Korea, and Japan, even as hopes for talks on the islands are fading. It saw a series of Russian moves from June to August showing that it is joining with China against Japan, while charging that Japan’s strategy is at an impasse. On August 8, it also reported on Sergei Naryshkin’s criticism of the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as crimes, which had not been aimed at ending the war since the entry of the Soviet Union would accomplish that, targeted at threatening the Soviet Union. He added that Russia’s nuclear force had prevented a third world war by balancing US power, hinting that such balancing is needed now. Sankei interpreted his objective as stirring division between Tokyo and Washington.
After August 15, Abe could turn his attention to the timing of meetings with Xi and Putin in apparent expectations of breakthroughs in relations. In Yomiuri Shimbun of August 25, Abe’s delay in pursuing Putin due to Medvedev’s recent visit to Etorofu and decision not to go to Beijing on September 3 due to the anti-Japan contents of the occasion were interpreted as setbacks that could be overcome with renewed ties between leaders at international meetings this fall as well as diplomatic overtures in the wake of Yachi Shotaro’s trips to Beijing and Moscow in July. Yet, Sankei Shimbun two days earlier had warned that Medvedev’s island visit, Sino-Russian joint naval exercises near Vladivostok, and Putin’s impending visit to the anti-Japan war victory celebrations were successive indications of a new posture to Japan, already evident on May 9 when Putin lumped Japanese militarism with Nazism and sung the same tune as China on historical issues. Building up its military on the islands, Russia sees the Okhotsk Sea as a base for its nuclear forces and as the gateway to opening the Arctic Ocean. No hope was expressed for overtures to Putin. Similarly, at the other end of the political spectrum, Asahi Shimbun that day focused on the strengthening of the Russian military on the islands and on the dead-end in negotiations, even as it mentioned that Abe’s diplomacy was not deterred in still seeking Putin’s 2015 visit.
Asahi Shimbun on September 8 reported on the latest Russian minister to visit the Northern Territories, a statement on September 2 by Russia’s chief negotiator Igor Morgulov that the issue was resolved 70 years earlier, and a sense that following the crisis in Ukraine, Russia had greatly changed its position. It clearly saw no point for Abe to pursue Putin. Yet, Abe was not deterred, still seeking Putin’s visit in 2015.
Before Foreign Minister Kishida Fumio went to Moscow to meet Foreign Minister Lavrov on September 21, Japanese media debated the wisdom of this trip. Asahi Shimbun on September 17 insisted that Abe’s determination for Putin to come to Japan before the end of the year was driving this effort to sound out the Russians, despite awareness that the timing was not good. The goal was to get the Russians to discuss the Northern Territories, and, in return, Japan would agree to convene an intergovernmental commission on trade and economics. Yet, Japan’s sanctions over Ukraine were a restraint on Japan, while Russia, taking a hard line on the territorial dispute since July, appeared to be in no mood to discuss this issue. While Abe was counting on his personal relationship with Putin, which would lead to a meeting at the United Nations just a week later, skepticism prevailed over Kishida’s prospects.
Kishida’s visit prompted an array of articles looking ahead to a visit by Putin to Japan by year’s end after an October 8 meeting of foreign ministry officials Sugiyama and Morgulov in Moscow. Putin and Abe may meet at the G20 summit in Turkey or the APEC summit in the Philippines prior to their Tokyo meeting, it was noted on September 22 in Jiji Tsushin, which asserted that Japan is pressing for preparation of proposals aimed at a peace treaty and resolution of the territorial dispute. Kishida was reported to have expressed Japan’s extreme disappointment at the repeated one-sided behavior and statements by the Russian side, including Medvedev and other officials’ visits to the islands. Lavrov insisted that the talks did not discuss the islands at all, just the completion of a peace treaty, and that first Japan must accept the historical reality that the islands went to Russia as a result of WWII, and only then would it be possible to make progress on the issue. Another JIji article that day sharpened the divide between the two sides, attributing to Lavrov a call to suspend the sanctions over Ukraine (improving factors not related to bilateral relations and making progress in all areas of relations) in order for talks to resume. It added that Abe is working on a meeting with Putin in New York, but concluded pessimistically that the two sides are insisting on their own principles for resuming the talks set in motion as far back as February 2014. On September 22, Yomiuri Shimbun was less pessimistic, observing that Lavrov had hinted at the possibility that talks on the Northern Territories would reopen, while indicating that Kishida was exploring that possibility following the visits there of Russian leaders to the islands. Mentioned too was discussion about the Ukraine situation and North Korean missiles. In contrast, Asahi Shimbun opened its article that day with Lavrov’s insistence that the two sides had only discussed a peace treaty, not territorial issues, attributing to him the view that this is about the outcome of WWII and as the defeated party Japan has no rights. It reported that Kishida claimed some progress had been made, but no day had been set for Putin’s visit to Japan. Moscow had hardened its position, while Tokyo still appeared to be in pursuit despite complaining about Russian behavior. None of the articles touched on the context of Putin’s foreign policy, jeopardizing relations.
On September 29 Sankei Shimbun reported on the Abe-Putin meeting in New York, in which the two leaders agreed on striving for a resolution to the territorial issue and continuing their bilateral dialogue at APEC and other international meetings. They would seek the best timing for Putin’s visit to Japan. Abe pledged to redouble his efforts to conclude a peace treaty and strengthen relations, while Putin spoke of livelier bilateral contacts, adding that despite reduced trade, great latent prospects exist for economic cooperation. The results were interpreted as excluding further provocative Russian behavior of high officials visiting the four islands. The earlier plan for vice foreign ministers to meet in Moscow on October 8 was reaffirmed. Suga stressed the great significance of this meeting and the fact that the two are the final decision makers, insisting that the plan for Putin to visit this year is unchanged.
Putin’s prominence at Xi’s parade drew commentaries on the right and the left that differences rooted in historical memory were solidifying Sino-Russian relations in opposition to Japan. On September 3, Sankei Shimbun emphasized that both states are linking the anti-fascist war ending in 1945 to the revival of Nazism (Ukraine) or militarism (Japan) that they must strive to prevent. Agreeing on linkages between Europe and Asia in WWII, they are making new linkages with today’s struggles in their “new type of major power relations.” The same paper that day reported on Putin’s stop in Chita to lay a wreathe for the victims of the war prior to the parade in that city as well as in cities of the Russian Far East to mark the occasion of the war against Japan. This has become a greater Russian focus, joining it closer to China. Asahi Shimbun also on September 3 found parallels in Russian and China views on historical issues. Legitimizing its stance on Ukraine as a battle against neo-Nazis, Putin is invoking similarities with China views of the results of the war.