Japanese Publications on Japan-Russia Relations


Kaigai jijo, special Issue on turbulence in the sphere of the old Soviet Union, June 2014

Togo Kazuhiko, Hoppo ryodo kosho hiroku: ushinawareta gotabi no kikai [The Inside Story of the Negotiations on the Northern Territory: Five Lost Windows of Opportunity] (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 2007; rev. expanded paper edit. 2011).

Kimura Hiroshi and Hakamada Shigeki, eds., Ajia ni sekkinsuru Roshia: sono jittai to imi [Russia Which is Drawing Closer to Asia: The Reality and Its Significance] (Sapporo: Hokkaido daigaku shuppankai, 2007).

Wada Haruki, Ryodo mondai o do kaiketsusuru ka: tairitsu kara taiwa e [How to Resolve the Territorial Questions: From Opposition to Dialogue] (Tokyo: Heibonsha, shinsho, 2012).

Hosaka Masayasu and Togo Kazuhiko, Nihon no ryodo mondai: hoppo yonto, Takeshima, Senkaku shoto (Tokyo: Kadokawa shoten, 2012).

Iwashita Akihiro, Hoppo ryodo, Takeshima, Senkaku, kore ga kaiketsu sake: Yonto hanso o norikoeta [Overcoming the Illusion of “Four Islands] (Tokyo: Asahi shinsho, 2013), With concern in 2014 greater than at any point in two decades that differences in foreign policy toward Russia can strain US-Japanese relations, it is timely to scrutinize Japanese writings on Japan-Russia relations. The result is more serious reexamination than at prior moments of possible breakthroughs in relations (1990-1992, 1997-2000, 2001-2002) of the mix of objectives at stake and the tradeoffs that may be required. This means debating the priority of national identity versus national interests, of US alliance relations and the rivalry with China versus using Russia as a balancing force in great power relations, and of energy supplies from nearby versus the unpredictability of Russian economic policy.

The dividing lines in Japan have been basically unchanged since disagreements over the negotiating policy with Russia scuttled negotiations led by Togo Kazuhiko following the Irkutsk Summit of 2001. On the one side, professors Kimura Hiroshi and Hakamada Shigeki have strongly opposed a compromise, insisting on “four islands in a batch,” not the uncertain process started at Irkutsk and resumed by Abe in 2013. On the other side, with different arguments, professors Iwashita Akihiro and Wada Haruki as well as the relocated Ph.D. and Professor Togo have supported pragmatic diplomacy, welcoming the Abe-Putin initiative of 2013 and continuing to press Abe to proceed with Putin’s planned visit to Japan in September despite the radically transformed geopolitical environment.

Kimura’s piece in the latest issue of Kaigai jijo reaffirms his position that Japan should not be negotiating with Russia, since it would mean a two-island solution in return for a peace treaty—a win for Moscow that it has sought since 1956 and a loss for Tokyo that it has been determined to avoid throughout six decades of on-again, off-again negotiations. If the powerful Soviet Union in 1956 could not get this deal when Japan was weaker, he asks, why should Japan with a more favorable balance yield now? Its diplomats and public must remain firm, waiting for the right moment when Russia recognizes that it has a weak hand. This argument lost currency as Russia grew stronger in the 2000s and with Putin’s return to the presidency more recently, but it is being resuscitated with insistence that Russia’s soft power is very weak, its Eurasian Union is unpopular and relies on fear of exclusion of migrant workers going to Russia and other economic penalties or unrest caused by Russian minorities, and that it is so fearful of China that it needs Japan more than Japan needs Russia. Economically, in energy exports and in infrastructure building, and geopolitically, in making good on its pivot to Asia without falling into China’s arms, Russia must turn to Japan, the argument has long been repeated to increasing skepticism.

Another part of the argument against cozying up to Putin is that he is the reincarnation of a Soviet dictator—intent on reversing the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the previous century, establishing a “mini-Soviet Union” in which Russia is the whale and other states are sardines, and viewing Europe and the West with their encouragement of “colored revolutions” as mortal ideological enemies because of values—freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. Acting in accord with Russian and Soviet tradition and drawing officials from KGB veterans, his aim is to contain the West. Having presented this dire portrait of Putin’s Russia, Kimura makes a leap of faith to suggest that Putin’s fear of China makes him eventually likely to turn to Japan. In his recent pieces, the idea that patient but firm diplomacy will be rewarded is downplayed, as he redoubles warnings that impatient and optimistic diplomacy will not pay genuine dividends with such a nefarious counterpart.

Without analyzing Sino-Russian relations, Kimura’s geopolitical arguments as well as his economic analysis leave serious gaps. He concludes that Russia is overreaching in trying to make the Eurasian Union one pole in a multipolar Eurasia and a bridge between East and West. While this may be correct, his longstanding advice to Japan to refuse to budge from “four islands in a batch,” regardless of whether Russia is weak or strong and its ties to the West are positive or negative, is too rigid to suggest answers to Japan’s questions.

Given the fierce reaction in the United States and Europe, Oda Takeshi in Kaigai jijo asks why Putin is pressing in Ukraine. The answers he volunteers are that: he looks at Crimea as inherently Russian land with a majority of Russians in its population; Putin perceives the loss of Crimea as an historical injustice; he finds it essential to protect Russians despite reports elsewhere that they were in no danger; most importantly, the strategic value of Crimea must not be lost in the face of NATO expansion to the East and the danger that Russia could lose its Black Sea naval presence; and it was time to fight back after Russia had been slighted since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moreover, Russian thinking about the need to defend their country’s historical, cultural, and economic identity is interwoven with an image of Ukraine’s links to those aspects of national identity. Thus, Putin’s moves regarding Ukraine serve as a catharsis to long simmering dissatisfaction, winning broad popular support. The stakes for Putin were particularly high because he has set his sights on forming a Eurasian Union, for which Ukraine is irreplaceable, but his actions toward Ukraine are causing consternation in Kazakhstan, Belarus, and elsewhere, making the proposed union less likely. The result of Putin’s actions is also to damage the image of Russia in the world, obviating the immense expenditure on the Sochi Olympics as an advertisement to the world. The economic price is also high with sanctions, capital flight, and increased efforts to reduce dependence on Russian energy supplies. Oda finds a mixed response in Asia as Russia—despite anxiety about China’s rise and the Eurasian Union being aimed at limiting China’s advance—and China agree on closer ties as a way to pressure the United States and Europe. As for Japan, Abe was the only one of the G7 leaders to attend the Sochi Olympics as relations with Russia were improving. Although he was obliged for the sake of G7 cohesion to slow the pace of improvement, Oda notes that it is necessary to approach Russia from the point of view of advancing territorial discussions, securing Russian energy, and pursuing a strategy to counter China. This cautionary conclusion stands in contrast to the message that Kimura has long conveyed.

Hyodo Shinji in the following article explains that Putin is obsessed with Russia’s sphere of autonomous defense, for which Ukraine is indispensable, as it is for Russia’s identity. It sees the expansion of US influence as its biggest threat. Another perceived threat is the demand of other countries for Russian territory, which includes Japan. Hyodo, however, points to China’s recently growing ties to Ukraine as especially significant for its forward posture toward Ukraine. These ties have been both economic and security related. Calls for a “great silk road,” he argues, assigned a major role to infrastructure investments in Crimea—ports, a high-speed roadway, and an airport—as well as construction elsewhere in Ukraine of factories and the largest cultivation of the overseas farmlands for China. In purchasing old Soviet made weapons from Ukraine, helping to make it the world’s fourth largest arms exporter, China also aroused concern. While a more isolated Russia in 2014 is drawing closer to China, Hyodo finds latent distrust lingering and long-term trends at odds with the currents visible as Russia’s relations with the West are worsening. After all, China is encroaching on Russia’s sphere of influence as is NATO and the West, not least of all in the Arctic and the Sea of Okhotsk. Concluding that China’s response to the crisis in Ukraine is complex, even as it expresses understanding for Russia’s moves, and that in 2015 China and Russia are planning to celebrate together the seventieth anniversary of the end of the anti-fascist, anti-Japan war, Hyodo insists that it is too soon to determine that their union against Japan is deepening. In fact, he argues that Russia sees Japan as not intruding into its sphere of influence, unlike Europe and the United States and China. It seeks cooperation in the Arctic Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk in the realm of security and of energy. This means, he asserts, that Japan must recognize that its existence for Russia is special compared to other countries and it is being invited into Russia’s sphere.

One other article in Kaigai jijo by Kawaraji Hidetake focuses on overcoming historical consciousness in bilateral relations. Kawaraji points to the Abe-Putin joint communique in April 2013 as a breakthrough in putting security in the forefront, leading to the first 2+2 talks in November, and to Abe’s presence at the Sochi Olympics as evidence that Japan is putting emphasis on this relationship. While current conditions are difficult, Kawaraji says that it is important to keep the mid- and long-term perspective in mind, suggesting that this was not done after the Irkutsk summit when domestic divisions in Japan set back negotiations. Already in 2006 Abe was beginning to explore a new path with Putin with Foreign Minister Aso showing flexibility on a territorial compromise, and in 2007 Abe agreeing to an initiative to cooperate in the development of the Russian Far East and Eastern Siberia. After relations stalled, Kawaraji sees Russia modernizing infrastructure on the disputed islands and inviting South Korean companies there, demonstrating that it could get by without Japan and shocking Japan’s Foreign Ministry by driving this point home in 2010-2011, as relations slipped to their nadir since the Cold War and Russia joined China in showcasing a common stance as victor countries facing the defeated Japan—this point accentuated at joint ceremonies of the sixty-fifth anniversary of the war’s end. In 2013, however, when Xi Jinping sought Putin’s agreement to include similar historical recognition in a joint communique, Putin declined. Linking the two territorial disputes with China and Russia—as well as that with South Korea—into a single historical black and white narrative is Xi’s objective. Yet, as China’s presence grows rapidly, Russia is feeling a sense of crisis, Kawaraji contends, and is seeking cooperation with Japan as a balance. Along with calling on Japan to adhere to the Murayama statement and other signs of historical memory that do not arouse its neighbors, he stresses the importance of continuing to cooperate with Russia rather than letting it slip into historical hostility.

Whereas the national identity or economic argument was long highlighted for reaching an agreement with Moscow and the geopolitical argument as well as the economic one was used to explain Moscow’s greater need for a deal, the geopolitical case is being stressed now as the driving force for both countries. It is also being made from the point of view that Japan and the United States are viewed differently by Moscow and that Tokyo need not share Washington or Brussels’ analysis of geopolitics. Assumptions about Russia’s thinking and the implications of the Tokyo-Washington split are rarely made explicit. In South Korea there is similar debate about an independent course toward Russia, which is not mentioned in Japanese analyses. Looking back at other arguments for Japan to change course toward Russia can give us more understanding of how views have been evolving.

Wada, Iwashita, and Togo have for the past decade or longer been presenting different perspectives on why Japan should be more forthcoming in negotiations with Russia. The recent books by them reinforce their arguments, which also have appeared in articles, serving as an indirect, running debate with Kimura and Hakamada, among others. Wada takes the position that Japan was wrong in the 1950s to demand four islands, insisting that Japan lost the Chishima (Kurile) islands in war, that it was wrong to change its mind by claiming that Etorofu and Kunashiri are not part of this island chain, that in the 1950s it negotiated with the Soviet Union under Cold War duress, that it lost its best chances from Gorbachev to the Irkutsk summit under Putin to reach an agreement, and that a deal is still within reach. Wada writes as a progressive dissatisfied with realist arguments on how Japan has and should align with the United States and with the US bases in Okinawa and with revisionist arguments that whitewash Japan’s history to 1945 and complicate resolving territorial differences. He envisions an overall package transforming Japan’s place in Asia: accepting two islands from Moscow, conceding Takeshima (Dokdo) to Korea while maintaining fishing rights, and negotiating with China over the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands in an atmosphere of the departure of US troops from Okinawa and of acceptance of Japan’s historical wrongdoings. If one adds Wada’s longstanding views on rapprochement with North Korea, the case for undoing sixty years of flawed diplomacy with Moscow stands as a starting point for a comprehensive progressive policy agenda.

Iwashita takes a narrower, pragmatic approach, starting with the assumption that Japan must overcome its illusion that the return of four islands is possible. Instead of linking an overall historical reassessment with the resolution of the dispute with Russia and those with Korea and China, he argues for separating history from territorial issues. He also calls for separating these issues from international relations and focusing on bilateral negotiations between governments and on track two meetings, beginning with the Northern Territories issue. Expecting that a deal can be arranged for two islands plus alpha, he says that dividing the territory of the four islands fifty-fifty would constitute a satisfactory outcome for Japan and mean that the government is heeding the voice of the residents who have been waiting to return and their descendants. One is hard-pressed in Iwashita’s narrowly focused analysis to identify the geopolitical implications of an agreement with Russia or with the other two countries as well as to appreciate how national identities may influence the negotiations. He even raises the possibility of taking disputes to the International Court of Justice. His focus is setting aside what interferes with pragmatism.

Togo combines the perspective of a diplomat, whose career was especially devoted to finding a way to resolve the dispute with Moscow and improve bilateral relations (he is widely seen as the architect of the Irkutsk summit agreement), and that of an academic, who has analyzed the national identity and geopolitical issues at stake in the relationship between Japan and Russia. Looking back on the negotiations and verbal exchanges both in the years of his diplomacy and afterwards, he points to many missed opportunities—most of which he attributes to Japan’s missteps. Togo has clearly set forth his strategy for intensifying negotiations and reaching a breakthrough, as reported in The Asan Forum. In doing so, Togo combines a pragmatic attitude toward compromise with a wide-ranging perspective on both national identities and geopolitics, increasingly clear in mid-2014.

Togo is attentive to the legal and historical arguments of both sides in Japan’s three territorial disputes, but he pays more attention to the diplomatic record. Emotionalism (territorial myths and aroused national psychology that leads to a vicious cycle) is blamed for politicians speaking out of turn, ignoring the advice of diplomats struggling to create a positive atmosphere for negotiations. Instead, Togo points to the failed diplomacy over more than a quarter century for lessons on how to proceed pragmatically, i.e., in line with the notion that diplomacy is the art of the possible. In his writings he answers questions that many have failed to address in earnest. Is Putin serious? Yes, as seen in his 2000-2001 diplomacy toward Japan and in signals he sent in 2011-2012, and Japan needs to be serious too. Do Russia national interests indicate that it should be pursuing Japan? Yes, its pivot to Asia, the importance of developing the Russian Far East and Eastern Siberia, and, as Togo is stressing in recent writing, the geopolitical objective of not falling excessively dependent on China, all mean that Putin considers a breakthrough with Japan critical to boosting Russian national power. Does such a breakthrough serve Japan’s interests too? Yes, he argues, Japan’s mass media have not done a good job in explaining the economic and geopolitical benefits as well as the worsening international environment, especially with China’s posture toward Japan, which should motivate Japan. Is a compromise within reach in the first stage of negotiations with promise for more benefits for Japan later? Yes, Togo has spelled out what this might entail. Would the impact of a breakthrough be of considerable value for Japan? Yes, he argues, for territorial and historical reasons, as well as for geopolitical ones. Togo makes a comprehensive case for seeking agreement.

In the June issue of Sekai, Togo lays out his overall argument for: 1) understanding the earth-shaking transformation of the world order centered on China, which is insisting on a civilizational clash with the West backed by its rapidly expanding military and its new, aggressive maritime strategy; 2) the mortal danger for Japan if Russia is driven into the arms of China, as the short-sighted geopolitical strategy of the West may be doing; 3) the great importance of Ukraine as the historical divide between Europe and Russia; 4) the close similarity of the situation in Russia and Japan, both of which have embraced the West at times, but now stand at a crossroads under strong leaders intent on reasserting a distinct national identity; and 4) the opening that exists for the two to cooperate on the resolution of international questions. Togo follows with advice for Japan to persuade Russia of its intentions, while it does the minimum necessary as part of the G7; to stick to the Abe-Putin agreement aiming for a breakthrough in relations; to win the understanding of the world for its policy; and to expand dialogue with Russia on a new architecture for the world, which encompasses both matters of security and civilizational divisions.

In articles in Russian presenting Togo’s thinking in June and August, one reads that Japan should serve as a go-between explaining the position of the West to Russia while recognizing that, from the point of view of Russian history Ukraine and Crimea are not the same. The article paraphrases Togo as saying that the interests of Japan and Russia do not intersect in Ukraine and that Japan should tell Obama and the Europeans that they should do what they need to do but its dialogue with Russia will go forward and others should not forbid it. He added that the geopolitical challenge is to prevent a Sino-Russian axis, while both Russia and Japan have a synthesis of Western and other values. Japan is a deeply Asian country, he notes, implying that its identity provides a basis for breaking with the West in dealing with Russia and opens the door to relations based on values. In conclusion Togo suggests that the territorial issue can be addressed at the end of the all-around dialogue on all issues of the contemporary world. On August 4, Togo elaborated that the sanctions announced by Japan are not intended to do real harm to Russia—in contrast with the US and EU sanctions. Togo added that without evidence on how the Malaysian airline was downed, it is a mistake to impose new sanctions on Russia.

According to the August 16, Sankei Express, after Russia’s army began military exercises on the Northern Territories on August 12 and Japan protested, as expected, the former ambassador to Japan Alexander Panov responded that Japan was trying to justify the line of worsening relations with Russia. Panov is aware of Japan’s two-sided response to Russia with sanctions less severe than those by the West, while criticizing Russia without cancelling the schedule for Putin’s visit and for vice ministers’ consultations. Behind Panov’s hardened stance is the expectation that Japan will participate in new sanctions as well as the view that Japan has delayed preparations for the planned September visit by Putin to the point that it cannot take place. Panov stresses that Japan is trying to shift the blame for deteriorating relations to Russia. On September 8-9, an economic forum is scheduled to be held in Moscow under the sponsorship of a Japanese and a Russian newspaper with the top advisor to Abe on Russian relations former prime minister Mori Yoshiro present, but it is unclear whether it will be held and what its context will be, i.e., a test of whether Japan will revert to its forward-looking posture. What message will Mori convey to Putin, given the fact that Japan does not want to damage relations with the United States while it strives to sustain good relations with Russia? Russia is making it clear that the sort of game Japan has been playing, trying to satisfy both sides is not possible. The article concludes that before Mori’s trip Japan must make up its mind. The debate is at a decisive juncture.

Putin’s aggressive turn in 2014 puts more obstacles in the path of a Japan-Russia deal. Doubters may ask: is it worth the divisions with the United States and the EU for Japan to proceed with a visit in September by Putin and an autonomous relationship that breaks the unity others desire at a time of Russian belligerence? Is it at all likely that Japan has enough to offer Putin that his strengthened alliance with China would be in jeopardy? Is a state under economic sanctions and increasingly defiant of international norms desirable as a partner for large infrastructure projects that will take a long time to be completed (in light of new European doubts about overdependence on Russian energy supplies)? And is there any likelihood that Abe would draw historical lessons from a deal useful for turning Japan in a direction for broader reconciliation in Asia or even with Putin, whose approach to historical memory has already led him to join with Xi Jinping in commemorating the victory over Japan in 1945. It is understandable that some Japanese are anxious to reverse this tendency. They will need to ground their optimism in solid evidence about where Russia is heading. At least a genuine debate about Russia is gathering steam in Japan.

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