Country Report: Russia (July 2018)

Editorial Staff (with the assistance of Olga Puzanova)

Zero-sum reasoning prevailed in Russian writings. The United States is the enemy, and it must be weakened, which authors take satisfaction is happening. A contradictory approach to Trump is apparent: he is fighting valiantly against vested US interests, but his actions are contributing to a rapid decline in US influence. Optimism for Russia centers on its prospects for filling some of the vacuum as the US presence in Asia wanes, especially in North Korea as part of a process of slow denuclearization requiring substantial security and economic incentives and leading to a sharply transformed environment in Northeast Asia. Trump is leading his country into retreat in alliances, in unilateral pursuit of “America First,” and in initiatives with far-reaching impact. Naturally, the centerpiece in coverage was the Trump-Kim Singapore summit on June 12, while the Putin-Xi Beijing summit at almost the same time along with the SCO summit drew attention.

North Korea

On May 31 Vasilii Kashin wrote in Izvestiya on Russia’s role in the regularization of the Korean Peninsula following the visit of Sergey Lavrov to Pyongyang and his invitation to Kim Jong-un to go to Russia. He argues that ties to Russia strengthen Kim’s negotiating position with the United States, as Kim’s two visits to China had already done. Although Russia’s influence on the DPRK cannot be compared to China’s, given its measly $76 million in annual trade, there is also trade via China and export of North Korean labor to Russia, which has fallen due to sanctions. Russia had delayed introducing or softened the application of sanctions, while joining China in UN votes and activating contacts with the DPRK in pursuit of a greater role in security in the Asia-Pacific region, making sure that Russia’s interests are considered. It joins China in supporting the necessity of a stage-by-stage resolution of the nuclear problem, insisting that steps by Pyongyang be matched by rewards, including sanctions relief. Casting doubt on whether the United States will take a suitable approach to denuclearization instead of insisting on quick elimination of the weapons, Kashin warns that Beijing and Moscow will not agree to new sanctions if Trump stops the negotiations, as China is already boosting economic ties to North Korea, and it holds the cards. Washington’s choice is a staged process or complete rejection of a political agreement with hardly any prospect of military action. Either way, US influence will be weakened in Northeast Asia to the benefit of both Russia and China, Kashin concludes.

On May 24 in the same paper, when it appeared that Trump had called off the summit, Kashin said that it was due to unwillingness to accept a staged process, which he explained, involves first a disclosure by the North of information on its rocket and nuclear programs, then a freeze and gradual dismantling, while Washington and its partners recognize the regime, its escape from isolation, while offering convincing guarantees of its security. Without such a deal, Pyongyang need not worry about US economic pressure, as China is satisfied that it is not too independent and that there is no longer a reason to apply pressure as part of a deal with the United States since bilateral relations have deteriorated. There will be no US military strike since it would risk war with China. Kashin concludes that Trump is in a bind, having ignored experts in his moves.

After the Kim-Trump summit in ekspert online Gevorg Mirzaian argued that Kim Jong-un, the “talented rocket-man,” won; CVID would not be realized, and there was no roadmap, unlike in 1994, to denuclearization. Trump agreed because he had no other choice, having driven himself into a corner through his prior rhetoric and the isolation he had brought to US diplomacy on this issue. Seoul was satisfied because the problem on the peninsula had shifted from the military to the diplomatic track, while Kim Jong-un looked ahead to concrete results with Seoul unlike the prospects with Washington. Further US-DPRK talks are treated as having little prospect.

Similarly, on June 12 in Novaya Gazeta Iuliia Latynina argued that Trump suffered an abject defeat, receiving nothing from Kim except a foggy declaration. Trump had purposely rejected a slower process, mistakenly taking the dead-end path. Kim understood that Trump came to Singapore needing a deal. While Russians do not doubt the merits of the summit, advancing diplomacy they welcome, they see the results as a US failure without quite explaining why Trump proceeded as he did—a challenge since his defiance of US professionals wins praise.

Georgii Tolotaya is another who wrote on June 12 about who won, for the Valdai Club, on the Singapore summit. The meeting was described as new realism with mutual concessions by wise and decisive leaders—a great historical achievement for both. Although little was registered in any document, both sides should be content, including the US side since Trump mentioned human rights and the Japanese abductees, while asserting that they would strive for a peace regime with the assistance of South Korea and China. Toloraya sets a low bar, ignoring lingering US anxieties. In the same posting Andrei Lankov, in contrast, doubts that the summit is a transformative event that will resolve much. It will change little, he warns. Yet, while the talks proceed the North will already be recognized as a nuclear power, and the US side will be forced to coexist with it, seemingly giving the win to the North. Russia wins because this opens the door to long-desired triangular projects with South Korea. Thus, a very positive trend has begun, he insists, hoping that it will last at least to the end of the Trump presidency.

Toloraya wrote in the same forum on June 27 about Moon Jae-in’s June 22 visit to Russia—his third summit with Putin—opening new horizons in the shadow of improved North-South relations. Progressives in power bring positive changes for: 1) security on the peninsula, on which thinking is now very similar; 2) respect for Russia’s role in managing the North Korean shift and attentiveness to its interests, although its services are not needed just now; 3) consideration of the potential threat to Russia’s security; and 4) shifting from trying to enlist Russia in pressure to bring about the collapse of the North to agreeing to dialogue with respect for the interests of all sides along lines Russia and China had proposed in 2017. Moscow to date has not exchanged views enough with South Korea, which is important for its economic interests. If the majority of memoranda and agreements from this visit are still recommendations, there are interesting projects such as establishing a Korean hospital in Skolkovo, work in the Arctic, and scientific and technical cooperation in industry, aviation, space, and nuclear energy. Despite its complex situation due to sanctions, Seoul is apparently ready to support the Khasan-Rajin transit corridor and its extension. Seoul also is exploring a free trade zone with Russia, as Vietnam has approved, but Russia is not ready to lower tariffs on Korean cars and South Korea is not ready to open its market to agricultural products of the EEU. So far, they have stopped at declarations of support for investments and free trade, not likely to play a big role in actual business.

On June 22 Toloraya had written in RCMA on what Russia should do about the Korean question. In the head-spinning march of 2018, will Russian diplomacy succeed? The “dual freeze” roadmap advanced in June 2017 is being followed but in absence of Russia despite the fact that the Korean problem had risen to one of its top-5 foreign policy priorities in the past several years. Russia should play a larger role, but it has been too passive. True, as Kim Jong-un quarreled with China and actively played the “Russian card,” Russian skepticism slowed its response as it hesitated to support and finance projects. It voted for UN sanctions, harming its own interests, when others did so in pursuit of their own interests, whether regime collapse in some cases or return to its sphere of influence in the case of China. Russia feared complicating relations with its “partners” although specialists warned that Pyongyang would not overlook this breach of trust. Now Russia is marginalized when, as was expected, Pyongyang is ready to cut a deal. In 2015 Kim Jong-un strongly supported Russia’s policies in Ukraine and Syria, and Russia did not reciprocate at the UN or bilaterally and was “offended” when Kim failed to attend the 70th anniversary gala due to internal circumstances. Clearly, Toloraya and others sought a more defiant stance in support of Kim and now strongly advocate a big push to boost relations, ignoring sanctions and offering a weighty economic package at the proposed September summits—resolving payments issues and using the $1.1 billion left in the North Korean account forgiving debts, welcoming more labor, and supplying energy. With Moon Jae-in trilateral project need to be decided now. Russia should call for the review of UN sanctions, winning Pyongyang’s trust even if Washington objects. A proposal could be made for the fall General Assembly for a collective system of security in Northeast Asia or, alternatively, when Kim goes to Vladivostok, the five leaders of Northeast Asia (the other three have already agreed to attend) could act on this, leaving the door open for Trump to come to Vladivostok and join in. Left aside due to passivity, it is time to be bold, argues Toloraya.

Alexander Gabuev on June 12 assessed the summit for the Moscow Carnegie Center. While it did not advance the cause of denuclearization and guarantees of North Korean security, it proved to be a show that leaves an image of both leaders as heroes, which could last until the fall elections in the United States, and serves the interests of other countries. It shifts away from the danger of war unleashed by Trump to peace no matter how bad the meeting was in producing real results. Any specification of the formula reached is bound to produce disagreement between the two. Trump can change his mind at any moment. Yet, all can celebrate before concrete talks begin. Kim was the big winner accepted as a normal world leader equal to the US president. His regime is legitimized without sacrificing anything, and the threat of military assault is much reduced. He has emerged from diplomatic isolation, receiving concrete economic gains from Seoul while discrediting its right opposition. He has embraced China as the older brother, normalizing ties courtesy of Trump. Of second order states following suit, Russia is most important. As China now can normalize relations with North Korea on its own conditions, not fearing the North’s concessions to Trump, Russia benefits by reducing the risk of war on its border and seeing its logic affirmed in the process unfolding. At the end of May, Lavrov’s visit to Pyongyang boosted ties and when Putin is in Vladivostok in September he could meet with Kim. Moscow has little basis to expect influence on US-DPRK talks apart from Beijing, but its Security Council role will matter. The only loser is Abe, left aside and found to have little influence on Trump, despite claims to the contrary.

On July 10 in Rossiiskaya Gazeta Oleg Kir’ianov wrote about the battle over the future of North Korea between China and South Korea. Despite the continuation of sanctions, active interest is being shown in projects in North Korea, guided by geopolitical plans. Each of the two states seeks to steer Pyongyang on a path of development advantageous to its interests, which often are contradictory, which Pyongyang intends to use for its benefit. North-South ties since the start of 2018 have increasingly taken a concrete form, notably talk of railway and automobile transportation in accord with a late June agreement on studying two routes-one along the east coast—and preparing detailed recommendations and technical plans, while also sending South Korean experts to assess extremely important strategic information on railway conditions all the way to Sinuiju on the Chinese border and Tumengang on the Russian border. Auto transport preparations are under way for routes from Kaesong to Pyongyang and in the east to Wonsan. The article calls these very big plans, indicating the North’s seriousness.

Kir’ianov sees no less promise in Kim Jong-un’s talks with China on June 19-20 followed by a North Korean delegation to Beijing in early July making the plans concrete, including an express highway from Sinuiju to Pyongyang and then Kaesong and four special economic zones—around Pyongyang, Wonsan, Sinuiju, and Rajin—of which the last two are border zones. The latest news is that after suspending construction of a bridge over the Tumen river two years ago China has now resumed building it. Although the specifics of the Xi-Kim agreement in June are unknown, Kim’s recent tour of points along the Chinese border confirms rumors that economic ties and infrastructure plans were all approved in accord with long-term Chinese aims to establish normal transportation arteries, especially from Dandong. The author interprets the process as setting in motion a competition—a battle for North Korea—not only for transportation but also for electric stations and other needs to make the new networks succeed and then for factories, special economic zones, etc. Yet, he notes that there is resistance in South Korea, facing a bill some calculate to be $77 billion for modernization of the railway network alone and wary of breaking the sanctions regime. China’s hands are less tied, but South Korea is intent on at least starting on road modernization. Russia is positioned to proceed, given the existing Khasan-Rajin railway project, which could be linked to Chinese or South Korean plans and could avoid being drawn into their competition. Russia can be part of other plans such as electricity and gas lines.

Sino-Russian Relations

Ivan Zuenko in riatr.ru (Russia and ATR) analyzed Russian and Kazakh responses—expert opinion with contradictory approaches—to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2014-17. He traces an evolution from mistrust to hope for quick results to disappointment. Interest was great over this period, as respondents struggled to give substance to what began as a skeleton concept. There were parallels in the positions of Russia and China—vast territories improving ties to China expected to serve as transit routes and with falling energy prices eager for investments from China. Could they forge a united front toward China, made more necessary with their shared place in the EEU? For China their reluctance would make SREB impossible. Many who wrote on this used a geopolitical paradigm. Writers asked what it is, how it is proceeding, and whether it should be feared. Vagueness in the initiative led to diverse interpretations. At a time of crisis inside Russia, the plan fell on fertile soil, leading to hopes for economic benefits exceeding fears of security threats and loss of influence in Central Asia. Other writings stressed the resistance of the West to a multicentric world and treated China’s actions as a just response, which Russia should welcome, viewing the combination of the two as a balancing force. BRI was viewed through this lens. Kazakh discourse was more homogeneous, perceiving the BRI more as a transport plan versus Russia’s geopolitical prism, while sharing the notion that Central Asia is the core of the plan. The two were at odds in how to approach the BRI: a dialogue between two great powers using multilateral institutions versus a bilateral approach with little geopolitics. Russia kept pressing the EEU as China’s partner with the SCO as well. Some Russian authors, however, did not share the euphoria, doubting the EEU’s impact, realizing that Kazakhstan now had a conceptual tool to just proceed with China in its own way on concrete infrastructure processes. Russia had pretenses as the leader of its own integrationist process, allowing it to cast aside its fears. When the EEU seemed not to suffice, Russians kept leadership hopes alive with the “greater Eurasian partnership.” Moscow dreams of a strategic triangle, while Astana seeks to balance Russia and China. Given this contradiction, the prognosis is poor, as Russia focuses on Kazakhstan as its main partner, while the latter seeks acceptance of its sovereign position and benefits from China’s superior financial and technological resources.

In the next issue of the same journal, Viktor Larin and Liliya Larina reported the results of a public opinion poll in the Russian Far East (4 regions) on attitudes toward China and the Chinese. China’s ratings have gradually risen, although it is not first in popularity. In Primorskii krai China is the prime economic hope, whereas elsewhere along the coast and in Sakhalin it is other parts of Asiatic Russia and Japan. Respondents are convinced of the desirability of Sino-Russian ties, seek more Chinese investment, and are tolerant of the presence of both Chinese workers and businessmen. Yet, some see a China threat. The greatest sympathy is shown toward Japan, with China 4th, South Korea 7th, and North Korea in 11th and last place. As a place in which to work, China ranked only 9th, compared to Japan 6th and South Korea 7th. Sympathy toward China in 1995 was 4%, rose to 16% in 2010, and now has climbed to 25-26%, as nearly 2/3 regard Sino-Russian relations as good in contrast to 25 % for South Korea and 18% for Japan. Primorskii krai residents are the most sympathetic, as nearly half see economic cooperation as beneficial. Blame for barriers to Chinese investments falls on the Russian side, say residents of Vladivostok more than others. Chinese workers are more welcome than before, but there is wariness to merchants. Contacts have intensified, as almost all in Primorskii krai have interacted with Chinese and 4/5 of respondents had been to China, a quarter of whom had been there at least 5 times in the past 10 years. Where Chinese migrants are most numerous, they are less viewed as a threat. Yet, half of the respondents see a Chinese threat to Russia’s territorial integrity. In conclusion the authors hesitate to see a pro-China inclination, but they find a pragmatic outlook on friendly ties and in favor of closer economic relations despite some attentiveness to differences and challenges.

On June 8 in Vedemosti Elena Medvedeva covered China’s decision prior to the SCO summit to set aside $10 billion in credit for joint projects with Russia, possibly including the northern sea route and rapid transit between China and Russia among 70 possible projects. Inclusive of the Russian Far East, energy, trans-border projects, and infrastructure are of interest.

Vladimir Nezhdanov in eurasia.expert on June 17 examined Chinese views of the pairing of the EEU and the BRI, noting that China is in no hurry to ratify the breakthrough May 17 cooperation agreement reached in Astana after five rounds of negotiations since 2015 to simplify customs procedures and in other ways advance trade since it does not view ties to the EEU as the only way to advance economic ties in Central Asia. China insists that relations must proceed in accord with the norms and rules of the WTO, refusing to form a parallel global economic system on the basis of this pairing. The process of ratification in EEU states could take more than half a year. This agreement is seen as an important milestone in China’s BRI, enabling Chinese firms to further develop their export potential country-by-country, asserts the article. Chinese media and analytical centers put the SCO above the EEU in economic strategy, underlining the value of BRI for development of the SCO both as trade community and as a “community of common destiny.” Infrastructure supports trade, which supports cultural ties and community. Implied is the argument that Russia is agreeing to one type of limited economic ties through the EEU, but China is capitalizing on this to advance another more integrative process through bilateral ties that serve the BRI but also an agenda to boost the SCO, which Russia had kept at arm’s length. The BRI and the SCO are treated as China-led, not the dual leadership Russia seeks. Criticism here is rather indirect, not openly asserting Russian wariness as China asserts itself.

In ekspert online Gevorg Mirzaian wrote of globalization with Eurasian specifics, reporting on the Qingdao G8 SCO summit in June, contrasting it favorably to the scandal-ridden Canadian G7. It demonstrated unity, mutual understanding, and the Shanghai spirit of mutual respect, while transforming the SCO following its expansion and in accord with Xi Jinping’s new foreign policy announced in 2017 for more actively shaping the world order. Xi now says it is necessary to turn the SCO in a community of common destiny. Mirzaian sees the SCO actively advancing Eurasian processes, as China offers tens of billions for regional projects and the SCO puts more stress on security, even forging a joint security structure, as discussed in a closed session. In his view, Russia is not agreeable, opposing subordinating its forces to anyone. Moscow strongly advocated for the expansion of the SCO, as occurred in 2017, worried about China’s extreme clout and viewing India as a way to balance China and having to accept Pakistan in exchange.
Despite concerns, India and Pakistan behaved very constructively, not blocking anything. On further expansion, Iurii Tavrovskii is quoted as favoring Iran, Armenia, North Korea, and Mongolia. China seeks to make the SCO a global structure, whereas Russia accepts it as a format for stabilization in the central part of Eurasia, not as an instrument of China’s global expansion.

Vita Slivak for RSMD on June 13 wrote about the results of Putin’s visit to China. Given tense US relations with allies, the Sino-Russian relationship appeared particularly strong this year. A large Russian delegation signed numerous memoranda of intentions and contracts, including four for nuclear reactors worth $5 billion of ready cash. Other contracts were less concrete but just as grandiose sounding, such as a long-sought sum for Russia’s railway industry in accord with China’s promise to help revive Russia’s railroads. It is precisely railroad projects on which the pairing of the EEU and the BRI depends, with a free trade zone in mind. Plans for liberalization of trade and investments were signed. Bilateral trade will reach $120 billion in 2018, exceeding the 2013 peak of $89 billion for the first time as energy prices have climbed. In spite of close ties between the leaders, China is not investing much in Russia—no more than 1% of the total and the funds are mainly from state banks that do not need to consider the risks and go to people from Putin’s circle in the biggest state corporations. Relations are strengthened by similar positions on international issues and internal management, arms trade, and joint moves in the SCO and the Eurasian partnership, which many see as building a new world order. Just after the bilateral summit the SCO summit convened, and it appeared on the surface to be much more harmonious than the G7, but Russia skillfully avoided all potential sharp corners with China as China strengthened its economic and even military presence in Central Asia and introduced a visa-free regime with Belarus. The article suggests nervousness about China’s gains without offering any alternative strategy that Russia might pursue.

RSMD carried joint Sino-Russian collections of articles showcasing the strength of the bilateral relationship. This was a season of reaffirmation, leaving no doubt about how well relations were developing. If occasional articles elsewhere hinted at Russian wariness, the thrust of the joint writings was the continued tightening of ties on the basis of close geopolitical overlap, shared economic interests, and overall consensus on forging a new international order. Trump’s moves on North Korea and later on Russia may have suggested that agreement could be reached on how to resolve some of the thorniest issues, perhaps leading Moscow and Beijing to express separate national interests, but uncertainty by both and the potential of deeper troubles ahead with trade and sanctions drew them into a closer embrace. Russians did not find this a propitious time to warn about China, seek leverage against it from the United States or Asian states, or oppose the momentum of the BRI or even Sino-Central Asian relations. Complaints about China’s dearth of investment in Russia and bypassing of Russia in transit plans to Europe seemed less noticeable. Instead, there was more trumpeting of the many reasons why relations had boomed over more than a quarter century and would continue to prosper as a new world order took shape. With US alliances on the ropes, North Korea opening the door to diplomatic vigor in transforming the geopolitics of Northeast Asia, the SCO expansion promising a broader institutional framework for reorganizing Asia, and a close personal connection between Putin and Xi Jinping, this was a time to reassert the primacy of Sino-Russian strategic partnership as a driving force for good.

Another Valdai Club article by Aleksandr Lomanov assessed the Putin-Xi summit in contrast to the troubled G7 summit. It was filled with praise about Xi awarding a medal to Putin and flexing its world status as an influential state with powerful friends. The world is changing: Russia has lost hope of entering the “European house” and China has moved on from relying on US ties as a guarantee of becoming a world power. Under Xi it has turned to its region for development, seeking many partners for the BRI, while Trump has turned to threatening China.

Komsomol’skaya Pravda carried two articles on Chinese in the Russian Far East. They note the proliferation of Chinese ads in Vladivostok, not for the workers and traders who have gone but for the boom in tourists. Chinese buy gold, diamonds, perfumes, clothes, candy, and ecologically clean Russian products, the article raves. In the past year 421,583 Chinese tourists and 100,000 Koreans visited Primorskii krai, despite the fact that those crossing by land must sit four hours before clearing customs. Migration is not a problem with Chinese wages higher than here and workers departing after the fall of the ruble, leaving Uzbeks (70,000) and Tadzhiks to replace them. Viktor Larin attributes the myth of the “yellow peril” to the 1990s when poor Chinese arrived in unknown numbers, to out-of-work Sovietologists in the United States looking for a replacement for the Soviet threat and spreading rumors, as well as to Russian intellectuals who looked only to the West. As for Chinese maps showing the south of the Russian Far East as part of China, they are just historical for the period to 1860, Larin adds. Memories of 1969 and fear of war led to huge outlays leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union and troubles in China; only the Americans won, and lessons should be drawn for avoiding a repeat.

The Crystal Tiger casino in Primorskii krai is out of the way near the airport, not to attract pensioners. Chinese fly in on junkets for three days, reserving hotel rooms a year in advance. The Chinese paid for it and derive most of the income from it, as new Chinese investors plan to build another casino for $500 million and a duty-free complex with a golf course and yacht club. These are the only serious Chinese investors in the krai, paying taxes. What a boon, and rival Khabarovsk looks on in envy, while the part of Greater Ussuriisk island that went to Chinese is being built up and the part left with Russia cannot find investments and awaits a dam to stop flooding, which would pay for itself, if only Moscow would permit this. Lately, Khabarovsk has found it hard to attract able Chinese builders, since wages are just 40% of those in China. Chinese farmers would rather rent out land than work it. Chinese traders have left the markets. The workers from Central Asia do not meet the same standards, concludes the article.

Sino-US Relations

Vasilii Kashin in Izvestiya on July 10 assessed the Sino-US trade war, which he predicted would last for a long time even if there are temporary compromises with potential to have a serious transformative influence on world politics and economics. He does not see this as Trump’s war, although Trump’s handling of the trade issue is distinctive; it was coming any way. Russia could suffer from it if the price of oil is impacted, but the conflict would be very useful for Russia as a strategic opportunity, accelerating its diversification of exports to China and China’s interest in scientific-technical cooperation. Kashin argues that the conflict was inescapable due to clashing long-term goals and models of development after China advanced to high technology, world brands and pursuit of markets. The US reaction has intensified with its loss of confidence in the inevitable transformation of the Chinese regime to democracy, its wake-up call to China’s technological advances, and its shift from other international challenges to China’s. Washington is destined to shift to strict containment of China, economically, militarily and politically, Kashin predicts, seeing Trump continuing what was seen in the Obama era, as Trump concentrates on the foremost US problem.

Japan

In Sravnitel’naya Politika, No. 3, 2018, Oleg Paramonov and Olga Puzanova looked back at two decades of Japan’s Eurasian diplomacy, its successes and failures. Its foreign policy course is attributed both to its military-political alliance with the United States and its role as an important player in the Asia-Pacific region, seen in its ties to China, the situation on the Korean Peninsula, its complex interactions with Russia, and its relations with the states of ASEAN. Yet, Eurasia too has emerged as a factor in response to China’s rise and ambitious plans to the north and west; to Russia’s plans for Central Asia and adjacent Russian areas; and to infrastructure plans of other actors such as Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Japan has reacted with a mix of jealousy, caution, and intentions to derive some benefits for itself. Its alliance has dragged it into alternative plans to isolate Russia and China and split them from states such as in Central Asia and India, which could be interested in a pro-American, democratic community. But its stagnant economy draws it to projects to not lose out to more active states, including agreeing to cooperate with BRI, seen as a way to entice Xi Jinping into an exchange of visits. Abe pursues the Quad with Washington, Canberra, and New Delhi and also toured Central Asia in October 2015 in what experts describe as an attempt to create a counterweight to China’s BRI and AIIB as he signed contracts worth $27 billion in Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Abe had earlier made clear strong interest in Central Asia, as had Aso Taro by noting it as part of his “arc of freedom and prosperity.” Now Japan and China are competing to reconstruct ports in Southeast Asia that China includes in BRI, but questions remain about the readiness of Japanese business for this. Infrastructure projects are not zero-sum; Japanese companies have much to gain and are already doing a lot, the authors insist.

In Central Asia whereas China concentrates on bilateral relations, Japan takes a regional approach backing integration, winning admiration. The authors trace Japan’s approach back to Hashimoto’s Eurasian doctrine of 1997 and adjustments from 2001 in the US-led anti-terrorist fight as well as the establishment of the Central Asia plus Japan dialogue from 2004. They suggest that for Russia Japan’s role in this region is mostly positive. Whereas a decade ago it tried to balance the influence of Russia and China, Abe is well-disposed to Russia’s presence and offers to cooperate there.  The two countries each partner with Turkey and India along the southern corridor, and Russia is wary of Central Asian states falling into a debt trap with China and of China’s excessive economic influence. With Japan Russia’s Asian vector could be more balanced, and Japan will try to exempt its ties to Russia from the US-Russia strife. The article concludes that Japan’s policies are two-sided and that much depends on the economic results of BRI and Sino-Russian and EEU-SREB cooperation. If they succeed, then Tokyo will be more eager to join and work with the AIIB despite close ties to the United States, which opposes AIIB. Yet, China’s excessive military actions in the region could turn Japan to more actively balance Chinese and Russian influence through various structures of containment. This would be of appeal to some of China’s neighbors that see Japan as an alternative to the growing dependence on China or at least a means of diversification. China is much closer and more influential than Japan; so Japan’s role in the region should not be exaggerated. Nonetheless, the case is made for welcoming its role.

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#AIIB #BRI #CVID #EEU #Khasan-Rajin railway #SCO #Trump-Kim summit