Country Report: Russia (January 2021)

Editorial Staff (with the assistance of Olga Puzanova)

Russian analysis at the end of 2020 and start of 2021 made clear Russia’s reality of becoming a junior partner to China, which was starting to eclipse the obsession with not being respected by the United States. On the one hand, two assumptions were widely acknowledged: that with Joe Biden in charge, Russo-US relations would further deteriorate, and that after Vladimir Putin broached the topic of an alliance with China, however vaguely, this possibility could not be brushed aside. On the other hand, in multiple directions prospects of closer Sino-Russian ties raised deep concerns. Yet publications stopped short of crossing what appeared to be three red lines: 1) criticism of Putin for his foreign policy choices; 2) suggestions for steps Russia should take to ameliorate the relationship with the US; and 3) direct challenges to the wisdom of close ties to China. The upshot of raining more questions was more to hint at anxieties than to forecast real change.

The diversity of subjects related to China, the Korean Peninsula, India, and maritime Asia kept growing. Reconceptualization was proceeding from the Indo-Pacific to the Arcto-Pacific. There was little optimism. Biden will intensify anti-Russian behavior. A vindictive China will use its economic clout to punish countries that defy it. The North Korean powder keg will grow more dangerous because the US will not take the right policy and South Korea lacks the autonomy to do so. And Russia is stuck with no domestic economic agenda and empty regional rhetoric. The feel-good themes of the 2010s about Russia’s rise, Eurasia, the Sino-Russian regional docking, Russian diplomatic advances in Japan and India, and plans for the Russian Far East had faded.     

RCEP

On November 19, Oleg Paramonov in Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn’ wrote about expectations and risks for the newly signed trade agreement RCEP, led by China with Russia on the outside. Japan, at first glance, is the loser since CPTPP, which it had rescued, has never become a megaproject. Its dearth of attractiveness for certain Asian states was associated not only with Washington’s withdrawal, but also with the inclusion of such sensitive areas for many countries as ecology, intellectual property, and the activities of state-owned enterprises. At the same time, China appears to have “taken over” the regional integration agenda. Yet Japan’s softer variant of the Indo-Pacific region differs from the US Cold War variant, and Tokyo has made significant efforts to better involve ASEAN in the Indo-Pacific agenda. The principle of the central role of ASEAN in solving regional security problems was previously declared by Tokyo to be consistent with the concept of the Indo-Pacific region. The fact that the ASEAN countries actually took the initiative to work on the RCEP agreement is in Tokyo’s interests. NowJapanhopes for the return of the US to the TPP, although the grounds for such expectations appear somewhat exaggerated, and seeks to use a more flexible strategy instead of trade wars. 

Alexandr Korolev in Profil’ on November 19 described how RCEP strengthens China’s position and weakens that of the United States. After eight years of negotiation, the creation of the largest free-trade zone in history serves to consolidate China’s leadership in the Asia-Pacific region. Yet Korolev leaves open the return of the US to TPP, the rising negativity in Asia to China, and the concern that Russia is hopelessly marginalized due to its own fault. If Trump gave China the opportunity to set the rules Obama had said America should set, Biden could add an economic component to the Indo-Pacific concept with a pronounced anti-Chinese character. China is being accused of “exporting a pandemic” as disappointment in free trade grows, clouding the future of RCEP, as do territorial disputes, spy scandals, accusations of interference in internal affairs, and trade wars. Especially, India has balked at joining for fear of opening its market to China. Russia has little to sell in the region, and its flagship initiatives are not in demand, preventing the concept of Greater Eurasia from going beyond Russian internal official and expert discussions. The EEU FTA with Vietnam since 2016 lifted Russian exports by only $1 billion to $2.4 billion in 2018, which then collapsed to $1.1 billion in 2019. The other FTA with Singapore is not yet in force. Given a decrease in raw material exports, Russia’s FTA prospects await domestic changes.

A third article treating RCEP on November 16 by Aleksandr korolev and Grigory Kalachigin in Rossiya v Global’noi Politike concluded that it is not a leading-edge trade agreement and is aimed at harmonizing rather than changing the existing “rules of the game” in trade. At the same time, the very fact of signing a mega-deal can provoke a new round of great power confrontation. One feature is the possibility of not fulfilling obligations under a “national emergency. This can be used as an excuse to suspend fulfillment of obligations in the event of an unfavorable global situation, including pandemics. Another feature is that it will allow ASEAN to partially redeem itself for failures in many other areas, e.g., to resolve the problem of the South China Sea and replace the Declaration of Conduct of the Parties in the SCS with a more advanced Code, as well as to “sell” its own vision of the Indo-Pacific region. Finally, this should be viewed as an alternative to a China-Japan-Korea FTA, which was not concluded due to political reasons.

Vladimir Skosyrev on December 16 wrote about London’s plan at the 2021 G7 to form a G10 with India, Australia, and South Korea, which would help to stop China’s expansion and, along with it, Moscow’s intrigues: “Like-minded democracies will work together to defend common interests and meet common challenges.” Relations between Britain and China have become extremely aggravated recently. Two factors were critical. First, Beijing has enacted a national security law in the former British colony of Hong Kong. Secondly, London decided to ban the use of 5G services of the Chinese company Huawei Technologies. India and Australia are embroiled in conflicts with China. Both houses of the US Congress passed a defense policy bill, as amended by Congressman Raja Krishnamurti, calling on the Chinese government to end its military aggression against India. After leaving the EU, Britain began to cooperate more closely with the US and is trying to form an alliance against China. Thus, new efforts to combine the G7 with the Quad, explains Skosyrev.

Korean Peninsula

Andrei Lankov on December 3 in Profil’ asked why Kim Jong-un has decided to stop economic reforms. In recent months there have been regressive campaigns against the market, foreign exchanges, and private business unlike anything in the past decade. Kim’s success in reforms had resulted in economic growth of 5-6% in 2012-17, unevenly as it was distributed. Sharp changes in foreign policy in 2017 started the transformation, which in 2020 has been compounded by the pandemic, causing living standards to fall. The turnabout on reform has another cause: the view that Sino-US confrontation since 2018 will last for decades. In 2017, it appeared that there was a united front against North Korea, creating an economic crisis, but everything changed as Sino-US ties deteriorated and China prioritized stability in North Korea, renewing its quiet economic assistance, mainly food and energy flowing through a pipeline. Why continue reforms if China will strive to maintain the status quo? Reforms pose political dangers, weakening state control.

Valdai Club on January 12 carried an article by Andrey Lankov on the world of Joe Biden and the Korean crisis. He found the South Korean press generally welcoming Biden’s victory, but the pro-American right is more enthusiastic than the pro-government press, which warns against the return of “strategic patience.” Now, as Sino-US relations sharply deteriorate, Chinese diplomats may regret their votes on UN sanctions, which cannot be removed without US agreement. China and Russia, to a lesser degree, is using gaps to cooperate with the North. No barrier exists to humanitarian aid, but economic revitalization, as occurred in 2012-18, is postponed. China’s attitude toward the North has changed, and it is ready to sustain the status quo should trouble arise. Biden’s election complicates a diplomatic compromise to end the North’s isolation, but the North will presumably follow the usual script of creating a crisis and then lowering tensions.

In the 2021 book translated as Contemporary Korea: the metamorphosis of turbulent years, the authors A.V. Torkunov, G.D. Toloraya, and I.B. D’iachkov write about the peninsula’s place in the formation of a new world order of accelerated egoistic interests of the great powers, compounded by the pandemic. Thus, South Korea’s efforts to escape from foreign dictates will have little effect, especially as Sino-US strife deepens. North Korea’s position will be strengthened by the change in the global structure. Its reality is becoming closer to the “new normal.” There is no resolution in sight to the problems of regional security. The new military-strategic balance has led to “confrontational stability.” The hopes raised by the progressives in Seoul to the mid-2000s collapsed with the shift to conservative leadership in the late 2000s, who made Pyongyang enemy No. 1. The US was a prisoner to illusions that the North Korean regime would collapse. History is repeating itself with the US again resorting to heightened pressure. This is a catastrophic mistake based on inadequate knowledge of North Korea. South Korea’s external situation has worsened; it has become a pawn in the confrontations against its will.

Moon Jae-in cannot overcome exclusive dependence on the US militarily and politically. South Korea’s internal “baggage” cannot help it succeed in pursuing its national interests as a “confrontational dead-end” and “turbulent zone” around the peninsula prevails. Stability and progress on the peninsula depend on the leading centers of power in the world realizing their interests. The West ignored equal dialogue, respect for Russia’s sovereignty, and consideration for its core interests. It seeks a multilateral system of regional security. It can influence the outcome on the peninsula.

Arcto-Pacific

On November 9, Aleksei Kupriianov in Rossiya v Global’noi Politike covered the construct of the Arcto-Pacific, a new outlook on the geopolitics of Greater Eurasia. The Indo-Pacific example gives an idea of ​​how flexible geopolitical concepts can be. Now at least five versions exist, of it, including the Indian and Indonesian ones recognizing the central role of ASEAN. In general, the Indo-Pacific, as interpreted by the US, is aimed at containing China (using the Quad), and in the interpretation of the Asian countries, at reviving trade and cultural cooperation along the trade route from China to Europe and at controlling this route. India and Southeast Asian states are interested in Russia as a country with rich natural resources, a powerful fleet (albeit deployed mainly in the Atlantic) and, at the same time, having access to the Pacific Ocean. However, at the moment Russia is quite critical of the Indo-Pacific, not noticing the difference between the Asian and American interpretations of it. Russia’s Pacific Fleet is small, it has no bases in the Indian Ocean and the ability to project force there, Russia has its own project—Greater Eurasia—which should link the entire continent from Vladivostok to Lisbon, a purely continental project, of little interest to India and the countries of Southeast Asia, whose transportation moves by sea. 

Russia should advance the notion of the Arcto-Pacific region. The main task is to ensure that the countries providing the necessary funds do not consider this process as an invitation to change the status of the Arctic territory. It needs to prevent third players, who are increasingly trying to penetrate and gain a foothold in the Arctic, from entering the region. The most persistent in this sense is China, claiming the status of a "near-Arctic" power. Russia, which can only develop the North with the help of third countries, is faced with the task of developing an inclusive concept of the Arcto-Pacific. The Bering Strait is the most vulnerable zone that is easily blocked by both Russia and the United States. How will Russia guarantee control if non-Arctic countries try to use their own icebreakers to escort ships, and countries advocating absolute freedom of navigation in the Arctic waters of Russia begin to carry out the notorious “freedom of navigation operations." Moscow will have to work hard to explain to all interested countries that their attempts to violate Russian sovereignty outright will result in a colossal strategic loss for them. First of all, this concerns China, which risks losing a safe sea route through the northern seas and losing the Cold War with the US. The Arcto-Pacific will allow Russia to supplement the purely land construct of Greater Eurasia with a maritime component.

China

In a November 11 Rossiya v Global’noi Politike roundtable, Aleksander Lomanov commented on the nature of East Asian societies, stressing that although China is assigned to the countries of Confucian civilization, its seventy years of building socialism, a huge borrowing from Soviet and Russian culture, means that the “Soviet syndrome” is also present—a complex of memories and experiences, which in the 1950s-60s tried to completely reshape Chinese life according to Soviet textbooks and patterns. Russian-Soviet culture has become intertwined with modern Chinese culture. This is a rare example of regrouping China and Russia together into one civilization.

Pavel Luzin on December 11 wrote about cooperation in space, saying “space activities—along with nuclear weapons and the veto in the UN Security Council—are one of the foundations of Russia’s high status in world politics. The stability of the modern Russian political system largely depends on the preservation of this status.” To boost its modest lunar program Russia is trying to find common ground with China, coordinating the missions of the two countries (Luna-26 and Chang’e-7) and the creation of a joint data center for exploration of the moon and deep space, as agreed in the fall of 2019. Now everything depends on whether Roskosmos is still capable of implementing this declaration.

Moscow is also trying to use the Chinese factor in a diplomatic game designed to secure the future of its manned space exploration and its space partnership with the US, EU, Japan, and Canada after the ISS ends. Despite Dmitry Rogozin’s remarks about the prospects for a Russian-Chinese lunar base, the leadership of the Russian space industry seeks to become a member of the Gateway project and maintain cooperation with the West as a whole. Full cooperation with Beijing in the framework of the Chinese orbital station, which will be established in the 2020s, and manned flights to the moon in the 2030s, is rather undesirable.

Relations between Russia and China in space cannot be called trusting. On the one hand, the Chinese approach excludes the possibility of interdependence in space affairs. Cooperation can only be based on China’s receipt of the technologies and equipment it needs from a partner with unconditional Chinese domination. On the other hand, Russia cannot afford one-sided dependence on the Chinese manned space program, which would destroy the still high status of Russia in international relations, but is also fraught with the loss of legitimacy for the internal political order. Russia today has nothing to offer China either in space technology. It would be ready to consider a serious deepening of the space partnership with Beijing, if the latter agreed to make some part of its civil space program dependent on Russia and formalize this agreement.

In 2011, the Russian probe to March was lost along with the Chinese probe, which increased Beijing’s skepticism about the possibility of deeper cooperation. And Moscow, under sanctions and not having legal access to European and American space electronics, is distrustful of its imports from China. It is trying to expand space cooperation with India, the only country interested in Russia’s experience and technology of manned flights. India’s plans to create its own manned orbital laboratory are viewed as an opportunity that could bring political results and long-term orders for the Russian space industry. Yet, India is trying to build close cooperation with the space agencies of the EU, the US, and Japan. Russia will not become an exclusive partner.  The main problem is the need to maintain partnership in space with the West. If no mention is made about similar needs in other arenas, the conclusion is that Russia has to rebuild foreign policy balance in space affairs.

On December 7 Iurii Tavrovskii wrote in Zavtra on the new phase in the cold war between the US and both Russia and China, insisting that this will change somewhat in form but not in content under Biden. Moscow and Beijing can swap places as a priority target. (Biden called Russia “the main enemy” and China “the main competitor,” but it was in the heat of the pre-election.) He will continue the policy of collective encirclement of China, begun earlier under Obama. His military concept “Pivot to Asia” and the trade bloc Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) were aimed at containing China with the help of satellites. As alienation between Beijing and Delhi grew, the construction of the Quad advanced, helping the US in promoting a new concept of the Indo-Pacific region. Beijing is more optimistic about Biden than Moscow is, seen in the fact that Xi Jinping, after a delay, nevertheless congratulated Biden while Putin paused.

Aleksandr Gabuev in Carnegie Moscow on November 30 wrote of Putin’s attitude toward an alliance with China, saying that Putin is using the topic of military rapprochement with Beijing in order to frighten the West with the prospect of forming a Sino-Russian bloc, and force it to soften its policy towards the Russian Federation. In his recent speech at a meeting of the Valdai Club several weeks before the US elections, he quite unexpectedly outlined one of the possible strategic forks in relations between Moscow and Beijing. We are not setting ourselves such a task now, but in principle, we are not going to rule it out,” Putin said in response to a question whether it is possible to imagine a military alliance between Russia and China. This was his first statement that Moscow does not exclude the formation of a military alliance, replacing ‘we do not consider” with “we are not going to exclude.” In June 2019, during Xi Jinping’s state visit to Russia, it was written that the basic principles in bilateral relations include “refusal to establish allied relations, confrontation and lack of focus against third countries.”

Interests do not always coincide. For example, China does not recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and also officially considers Crimea to be the territory of Ukraine. Russia does not recognize Chinese claims in the South China Sea and does not take an official position on territorial disputes involving China. Moreover, Moscow is selling advanced weapons to opponents of China in these disputes like India and Vietnam. Both Russia and China believe that they have sufficient resources to protect their fundamental interests on their own, and do not want to take the risk of being drawn into a major conflict over the interests of a partner. Moscow can hardly count on genuine equality in the event of an alliance. Russia is gradually beginning to depend on China for strategic civilian technologies like fifth-generation communications system, but its debt to Chinese financial institutions is still insignificant. In 2014 the Kremlin had at least some kind of alternative to the West in the form of China; on the horizon of the mid-2030s such an alternative may not appear, and Russia would find itself tied by pipes to a single consumer—in the situation of a buyer’s market, Gabuev warns.

Beijing has been learning to use economic instruments such as sanctions, embargoes, and tariffs to put pressure on other countries, as in the trade war between China and Australia, which until recently was considered a success story in using symbiosis with the Chinese economy. The Kremlin will probably remember how in 2011 the oil company CNPC secured a discount on a recently concluded contract from Rosneft and Transneft, taking advantage of huge loans and the difficult situation of Russian state-owned companies. The most important thing for the Kremlin is not to overestimate its expectations about Western fears of a Russian-Chinese rapprochement and to preserve the opportunity to change its policy in such a way as to stabilize ties with the United States and Europe without spoiling relations with Beijing.

In Вестник – Российская академия наук, 2020, 90, No 11, Sergey Trush analyzed the reasons and risks of a Chino-Russian military alliance, arguing that it does not serve Russia’s security interests and impacts multipolarity, but he asserted that Russians are talking a lot about such an alliancesince in October Putin hinted as much after earlier having showcased Russian assistance to China in establishing a national system of missile defense as Russian arms exports were rising from a new peak of $3 billion in 2016. Meanwhile, under new pressure from Trump, China was seen as changing its view of alliance relations. Yet mutual security guarantees do not exist. Trush is concerned that an alliance would turn a triangle into an axis of two against one, undermining Russia’s national model of development and autonomy. Russia would be obliged to side more solidly with China in conflicts in the East and South Chinese seas and against India, Japan, and both Koreas.

A new East-West axis would take shape. India would move further to the US. An impact could be felt in Russian society too, adding to disproportions and ideological thinking. The dominant partner would hold sway over foreign policy, ideology, and even budget expenses. A boycott of Russia in Western financial, trade, and commodity markets could follow. China would insist on free access and use of the Arctic Sea route. The situation in Central Asia would grow more problematic, as already seen in the challenge of docking the EEU with BRI. The idea of Greater Eurasia remains purely propaganda. The fact there is a monopoly consumer at the end of the energy pipelines is also a problem. For its internal development, openness to and inclusion in the global economy and international system, and normal cultural cooperation, Russia needs stable ties to China and the US. But US missile threats could drive Russia to China.

Ivan Zuenko on December 10 in Carnegie Moscow asked how the pandemic has changed agriculture in the Russian Far East without the Chinese. There were closed borders, quarantine measures for freight traffic, and then Biden’s victory, which could end the trade confrontation between the world’s largest seller and buyer of soybeans. Everything is against Far Eastern agriculture, which, as in Soviet times, is turning into one of the pillars of the regional economy.
Yet the importance of Chinese workers for agriculture there has been declining since the mid-2010s, following the fall in the ruble, and hence in the income of seasonal workers. It has become increasingly difficult to hire Chinese peasants. The authorities also accelerated this, especially if they had someone to fill the labor shortage. In 2013, in the Amur Region, under the Governor Oleg Kozhemyako, quotas for labor migrants in agriculture and the forestry industry were dropped to zero. In 2019, Kozhemyako promised to do the same in Primorskii krai, where he became governor.

The decline in harvest did not fundamentally affect the state of the market. The personnel shortage was compensated for with local resources, and the main problem was not the lack of workers, but their insufficient qualifications. Entrepreneurs had to create advanced training courses for local tractor drivers on the fly, Machine operators came from European regions of Russia. 2020 was the first year since the late 1980s when almost exclusively Russians worked in the Far Eastern fields. Chinese workers could be paid only during the agricultural season (from March-April to October-November) with no need to invest in social infrastructure—seasonal workers will have enough barracks near the field, and they are ready to work late and seven days a week. 

The opening of the border has been postponed indefinitely Small Chinese enterprises are gradually leaving; their competitive advantage was precisely in more effective work with compatriots. Prices for grains and oilseeds are growing much faster than their cost added by the depreciation of the ruble against the dollar. With the US excluded, selling almost all of the soybean produced to China is possible. Transportation is an issue, by road or in sack boxes in covered railway wagons is not optimal for increasing volumes, and the main soybean processing plants in China are located to the south (starting from Shandong). Now corn and timber are going by sea from Vladivostok. Despite years of talk about the dependence of the Far Eastern economy on Chinese capital and labor, all this was found in Russia itself, thanks to its integration into the world market, the availability of foreign equipment and technologies, and at the cost of consolidating the status of a producer of raw materials.

India

Aleksei Kupriianov on January 12 in Profil’ warned that Russia risks losing India by leaning always to China in this triangle. Indians are asking why Russians keep ignoring the threat that India is facing, even a former ambassador to Moscow known for being sympathetic. Through December the Indian press was discussing the future of Indo-Russian relations. A passage in a speech by Sergey Lavrov aroused this reaction, as he has charged that the West is trying to drag India into anti-Chinese games with the Quad and to sharply weaken Russia’s ties to India. This includes great US pressure in the area of military-technological cooperation. There was also mention of India being a separate pole under pressure from the West but not yielding. Yet the Indian press jumped on part of Lavrov’s remarks and the postponement of a Russia-India summit to create a scandal. The leader of Congress attacked the government for disrupting traditional ties with Russia. The Indian foreign ministry responded that the postponement had been due to the pandemic, and the opposition’s remarks could lead to irresponsible rumors that could truly damage relations with Russia. Lavrov’s remarks were not timely given the fact that a half year had passed since the Sino-Indian border fighting had occurred with military tensions persisting.

Meanwhile, India’s health and economic crises deepen as China’s ameliorate, and Indians fear that China will seize the moment to launch a major economic and political expansion into Southeast and South Asia and the Indian Ocean. Deep distrust of China in the Indian elite lingers from the war in 1962. India is looking for allies, which Moscow was in the last decades of the Cold War. Naturally, it is turning to other countries fearful of China’s rising power. It is a vicious circle; as China’s pressure builds, India draws closer to these states, which leads China to apply more pressure. Chinese simply do not grasp how painful their border actions are perceived.

Moscow can help to resolve this situation if it shows more interest and takes advantage of its privileged partnership. India sees Russia as gradually turning into a junior partner of China, just standing by no matter how tensions worsen. On the sensitive question of the Indo-Pacific region, Russia keeps telling India to drop the idea when many countries are drawn to it. This is not some American plot but an idea widely popular in Indian expert circles. Leaning to China, Russia is seen as no longer a major actor in the Indian Ocean. Nostalgia for Russo-Indian friendship is fading and will disappear if nothing changes. Neither Indian political party yet wants that. If Russia unquestioningly supports all of China’s actions in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, it will have to get used to the idea of India joining the American camp. If Russia is an autonomous, powerful player in the region actively cooperating with India and other countries, something similar to the Cold War Russo-Indian relationship can be rebuilt. That would be good for China too, which does not want to see to its south India become an American bastion. Russia must recognize that it has not one but two key partners in Asia.

VB Kashin, AS Patachkoba, VA Smirnova, and NA Potashev described in “Kitai v sostoianii ekonomicheskoi voiny: Indiia i Avstraliia,” the worsening of China’s relations in the spring and summer of 2020 with India and Australia. In the case of India despite the military standoff and the Indian responses, China has used restraint on economic pressure. In contrast, Australia has been the target of tough sanctions. India withdrew the tender for a 4G network, limited participation of Chinese companies in state tenders, blocked Chinese information technology companies, and placed unofficial customs scrutiny on imports from China. Yet Indian manufacturers complained, and the impact of the pandemic led to reversals. India depends much more on Chinese imports than vice versa. China did not introduce retaliatory measures even as it continues to strengthen economic and military ties to India’s neighbors. Australia was hit much harder with expectations that the restrictions will last a long time, owing to a political line deemed hostile. The article fails to draw any comparison with China’s possible behavior toward Russia, while others hint at that.

Japan-Australia

On Japan-Australia relations, Oleg Paramonov on December 3 in Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn’ wrote about Scott Morrison’s November visit to Tokyo and the agreement for joint access in defense, easing the path to joint military exercises, building on agreements in 2007 and 2017. This signals a new period in Japanese international relations, when it demonstrates to other “middle powers” its readiness to cooperate in security, supplementing the Japan-US alliance. Suga and Morrison signaled to the new US administration that they would be pleased to return to the pre-Trump times. Japan looked ahead to new players from NATO, notably the UK, which could join in ties analogous to Japan-Australia ones. Russia could try non-traditional security ties to Japan.

Japan-Russia

On December 11, Paramonov wrote about the Kurile question and the US role. Russians who lived on the four islands cannot get an American green card, it was just reported in Hokkaido Shimbun, because they need to record their residence as Japan. He noted that the Japanese contribution to US aid in the Cold War, which has both a military and a political dimension, is underestimated. Even limited by a ceiling of one percent of GDP, Japanese defense spending put the USSR in a rather difficult position. The risks of building the Washington-Tokyo-Beijing triangle led to the fact that in the early 1970s the USSR invited the Japanese to return to the discussion of a peace treaty based on the 1956 declaration, but was refused. Japan also actively participated in the sanctions blockade of the USSR after the entry of troops into Afghanistan. Then, it gradually began to realize that, after the collapse of the USSR, Washington was no longer interested in Japanese territorial claims against Russia, shifting on Russia into APEC after US did. Realizing that it now had to "fight for the islands" alone, Japan proposed in July 1997 Eurasian diplomacy, which could interest Russia, despite the mention of the “Northern Territories." It, however, was very difficult to get Washington’s consent to a deal. The failures of US policy in Afghanistan and the Middle East and the inability of Obama to clearly respond to the Belt and Road megaproject convinced Tokyo that “America is no longer the same”; Tokyo needs to act independently.

For Abe one cannot underestimate the personal factor and family traditions. His father Shintaro as foreign minister was the first to decide to integrate negotiations with Russia on a peace treaty
into a much broader dialogue, not only on the topic of economic cooperation, but also on regional security issues. At the same time, in March 2014, the position of supporters of Washington’s course towards Russia began to strengthen, which Abe could not ignore. However, as the resistance of the Russian economy to sanctions pressure became obvious, Abe decided to act without particular regard to Washington. Although Trump gave Abe considerable freedom of action in the Russian direction, negotiations on a peace treaty were not exclusively a bilateral issue. In 2018 Abe assured Putin that if Russia handed over these islands to Japan, there would never be American military bases there, Russia already understood the unreliability of oral assurances partners, given the example of the history of NATO’s expansion to the east.

Mainichi Shimbun appeared to propose to the new American administration to amend the Administrative Agreement on the Status of American Forces in Japan from 1960 to deal with this issue, but Suga had already received assurances from Biden that the Senkaku Islands, disputed by China, are subject to American security guarantees. The article concludes that Kishi Nobuo,
Abe’s brother has become the minister of defense. Their grandfather had headed the government in 1957-1960, when the US-Japanese security treaty appeared. Nobuo has a good chance of becoming prime minister in the future. What will have a greater influence on his foreign policy priorities – the name of his grandfather or the views of his father?

Japan-China

On December 18 Paramonov in the same journal covered Japan’s handling of the “Nanjing incident”—attempts of the so-called "revisionists" to question both the methods of counting the victims and the very fact of this event. In Abe’s eight years in power, relations were brought to a state of if not friendship, then at least “normality.” Abe did not make concessions on key issues for Tokyo and did not irritate Washington with his independence, which had its own plans for Beijing. How did it happen that a politician with hawkish views was able to "make friends" with China? Since 2018, Xi Jinping has not personally participated in events dedicated to the anniversaries of the Nanjing tragedy, although the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre was established in 2014 largely on his initiative (this time, the absence of the Chinese leader was explained by the pandemic). 

On December 13, the website of the Japanese state broadcaster NHK posted material claiming that in the context of deepening confrontation with the US, China intends to demonstrate its interest in strengthening its ties with Japan, primarily economic ones. Therefore, the mourning ceremony was organized so as not to harm the current status of Sino-Japanese relations. During the presidency of Trump, it saw a stable trajectory, which turned out to be very useful for both Beijing and Tokyo. Abe’s revisionist views were likely judged in China to be more oriented toward domestic consumption, in contrast to the pro-American nationalism of Koizumi. As head of government, Abe was more of a “nationalist-pragmatist,” the main thing was the solution of problems related to national interests. Suga said that he would like to build stable relations with neighboring countries, including China and Russia. Yet it is highly probable that the theme of the Nanjing Massacre will return to the bilateral agenda. This event cannot be forgotten by any of the parties to the conflict.

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