Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Will Japan make Russia give Kuril islands away?

A meeting of Russian and Japanese defense ministers and diplomats was held in Tokyo. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu described it as "an important step in the development of trust between the two countries." Expectations were particularly high in Japan that wants to play the "China card" in the issue of the Kurils "held" by Russia. The talks have shown an alarming trend.

The official results of the meeting released by news agencies were not sensational. "The meeting in the two plus two format marks a new stage in the Russian-Japanese relations," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said that the meeting opened a new chapter for Japan and Russia in the field of security and defense. Behind these generalities there was an intense diplomatic struggle behind the scenes.

Lately, the negotiation process between the two countries was revived, wrote Japanese newspaper The Japan Times. It has to do with the coming to power of Vladimir Putin. "Compared with former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev who paid scant attention to Japan and visited Kunashir Island - one of the four in dispute - in November 2010, sparking criticism from Tokyo, President Vladimir Putin values better security ties with Japan," said Mizuho Aoki in the article "Expectations high for Japan-Russia parley."

Indeed, in April of last year for the first time in ten years Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to Russia with an official visit. He met with Putin, and the parties have agreed to resume negotiations on a peace treaty that were dragging because of the lingering territorial dispute over four Kuril islands claimed by Japan. The Japan Times interviewed a Japanese expert to clarify why the Russian leadership has become more active and initiated the latest meetings.

Aoki said that the security landscape in Asia has changed amid China's military build-up. This causes concerns for the governments of both countries, but especially the Russian one. "Russia, which shares a border more than 4,000 km long with China, is more eager for the talks," said Shinji Hyodo, head of the America, Europe and Russia division at the National Institute for Defense Studies.

"Russia's political relationship with China is amicable, but it's a different story when it comes to military matters. Russia wants better ties with countries that have distanced themselves from China, such as the U.S., Japan, India and Vietnam, to counterbalance Beijing's growing ambitions," he said. Another expert, Toshiyuki Shikata, a Teikyo University professor and former commanding general of the Ground Self-Defense Force's Northern Army said that Russia was particularly shocked by the first ever visit of Chinese warships through the La Perouse Strait in the Sea of ​​Okhotsk that Russia considers its "sanctuary."

"Russia places two or three nuclear submarines in the Okhotsk Sea. . . . It's like the last line of defense for Russia," Shikata said. China has also been taking a greater interest in the Arctic Ocean. He believes that Russia is also concerned that melting ice due to global warming is raising hopes of a new northern sea route that avoids the Suez Canal to greatly reduce shipping times to Europe. Russia is worried that Chinese military vessels will encroach on the Arctic Ocean, which Russia considers its inland sea, Shikata said.

The Japanese experts believe that in this environment, Russia will continue to place importance on its ties with Japan for some time. However, this will not be easy, because Russia will have to meet Japan's long-standing demand that all the four disputed islands off Hokkaido be returned. However, the experts argue that Japan has a real chance to solve the issue in exchange of enhancing security measures in the region.

But, according to China's Xinhua News Agency, a policy of active pacifism (Japan's increasing role in the international arena in the framework of international law - Ed.) is not favored by the Russian leadership. Lavrov said gently "we understand", but "we generally are never friends with someone against someone else." Shoigu said that the missile defense system in Japan and the United States would destroy the balance of security in the Asia -Pacific region. However, the parties have agreed to hold joint naval exercise "to counter piracy and terrorism." Of course, China will take these agreements personally. Will the Japanese be able to solve their problem by playing the "China card "?

"So far there is no reason to say that a decision has been made to transfer the islands under the jurisdiction of Japan," told Pravda.Ru Victor Pavlyatenko, Senior Fellow at the Center for Japanese Studies with the Institute of the Far East. "But this process must be monitored, because the essence of the peace treaty is nothing but the political transfer of the islands to Japan. There is no other meaning to it. During this time the parties have stressed that it is necessary to abstract from the public debate, and I am very concerned that this issue can be resolved in quiet offices, this trend can be seen," said the expert. According to Pavlyatenko, the Russian government has enhanced its activity because of mundane reasons - to find investments for the development of Siberia and the Far East and "build out" its oil and gas, to find a niche in the Asian energy market. The China card is likely to force China to raise prices for Russian energy.

Russia and Japan have agreed to hold meetings in "two plus two" format regularly. The next meeting is expected to take place in 2014 in Moscow.

Lyuba Lulko


Read the original in Russian


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