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12.01.2015 г.

The Japan-China territorial dispute and Russia

Valerii Kistanov

In recent years relationships in the triangle Russia-China-Japanbecomean increasingly important factor in the political situation in the Asia Pacific region, primarily in East Asia. These relationships require complex analysis, both in terms of economy and security. But now it is territorial issues that come to the fore in the relations between these three countries.

 As it is known, the problem of territorial demarcation between Russia and China by now solved, and, hopefully, it is done once and for all. However, the territorial problems in the relations of Japan with China and Russia remain unresolved and have a serious impact on relations between the three major actors in Northeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific region as a whole.

 Obviously, the territorial dispute between Tokyo and Beijing over the belonging group of uninhabited Islands of the Senkaku (Chinese Diaoyu) in the East China Sea is the most acute. And lately it has reached an unprecedented intensity. It actually focused the growing economic and military-political rivalry between the two Asian giants: the old Japan and the new China. Tokyo, alarmed at the growing economic and military strength of its neighbor, and his offensive actions in respect of the disputed Islands, wants to enlist the support of various countries in the so-called "containment of China".

Today the only guarantor of military security and territorial integrity Japan believes the U.S., with which it has the appropriate Security Treaty. However, Washington actually playing a double game. At the meeting with President of China XI Jingping in California in June 2013, President Obama urged his counterpart to the de-escalation of the territorial dispute with Japan. But Obama said that the United States take a neutral position regarding sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, offering Chinese side to settle a territorial dispute with Japan through dialogue.

 As for the so-called neutrality of the USA over the issue of sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu, senior US officials have repeatedly stated that these Islands are included in the scope of the US-Japan Security Treaty .

Parallel to the strengthening of the military Alliance with the US Tokyo intends to seek military support from other Asia Pacific countries. To this end, the Abe administration has regularly sent high-ranking representatives of the Self-Defense Forces in several countries in Asia and Australia. Among the Asian countries are Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, India and Pakistan. Japanese media do not hide that the government's efforts in this direction due to the growing concern about the growing Maritime activities in China.

In the Tokyo policy of "containment of China" special place takes India - one of a growing economic giant of Asia, whose political role on the international scene in recent time also increases significantly. The Japanese government considers this country not only as an economic counterweight to China, capable to a certain extent mitigate excessive, and has already become a threat, Japan's dependence on the Chinese economy, but also as its military-political balance. In this case Japanese politicians rely on similar concerns of Delhi about increasing naval power of Beijing, as well as territorial dispute between India and China.

 Cooperation with countries in Southeast Asia are also considered by the administration of Abe not only as an important factor in the revival of experiencing the difficulties of the Japanese economy, but also as a way of weakening the territorial pressure of China on other, neighboring, countries. Japanese attempts to organize opposition to China within ASEAN, heavily dependent on China economically, yet did not succeed. However, Tokyo attaches great importance to bilateral cooperation in the military-political sphere with the members of this organization, who have their own territorial conflicts with China in the South China Sea - especially with Vietnam and the Philippines.

According to Japanese experts the visit to Japan of President of Vietnam Truong Tan Shangin March 2014 , in addition to strengthening economic cooperation, also had the purpose of demonstrating the possibility of coordination of Japan and Vietnam in relation to territorial problems of both countries with China. The same can be said about the visit to Tokyo in June 2014 of Philippine President Benigno Aquino. Japan intends to supply both countrieswith large patrol ships and prepare their crews to enhance the military capabilities of these countries in the Maritime confrontation with China.

Moreover, in this November there will be the first ever meeting of Defense Ministers of Japan and ASEAN countries, with the aim of strengthening ties between them in the field of security. As say Japanese experts, Japan is seeking to contain China, which is beefing up its territorial claims in the East China and South China seas, by strengthening military cooperation with the 10 member States of ASEAN.

In General, the countries of Southeast Asia, has been increasingly considered by Japan as allies against the so-called "China threat". This term in recent years have entered in the lexicon not only of the Japanese experts and politicians, but also of official documents.Japan seeks to attract also Australia and New Zealand in the circle of Pacific countriesthat share the idea of "containment of China" in its territorial disputes with neighboring countries.

Recently amongexperts, as well as in the media of Japan is increasingly discussed topic of Russia's involvement in the global system of anti-Chinese checks and balances, carefully built by Tokyo. The basis for the Russo-Japanese rapprochement, in the opinion of the Japanese, is seemingly growing in Russia anxiety about the growing economic and military power of China, as well as increasing its naval activities, including plans for development of the Northern Sea route. These facts, they say, is regarded in Russia as the "China threat" in the Far East in the field, both the economy and security, and forcesMoscow to seek rapprochement with Tokyo for joint neutralization of this «threat». Japanese scientists believe that Japan, for its part, should take advantage of such concern of Moscow to work together to counter China.

Confirmation of their assumptions about the anxiety of Moscow about the so-called "China threat" Japanese analysts find in the fact of creating of a new negotiating structure with the participation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and of Defense of Russia and Japan (2+2).Putin and Abe agreed about it at the April meeting 2013 in Moscow. However, it must be stressed that the Russian side even before the first round of the Russian-Japanese negotiations in the format of "2+2" in November 2013 in Tokyo officially stated that it does not intend to discuss in it "Chinaproblem".

It should also be noted that, relying on the allegedly existing concern in Moscow about the "China threat", the Japanese experts hope for concessions from it in a territorial dispute with Tokyo in respect of the South Kuril Islands as a precondition of Russian convergence with Japan on the anti-Chinesebasis.

 In General it can be assumed that currently Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes to achieve, if not a break, then at least some positive for Japan movementsin the relations with Russian in the context of the territorial disputes of Japan with neighbors. Some hope for him in this respectgives the statement of the Russian President Putin about readiness to seek a mutually acceptable solution to the territorial problem in relations between Russia and Japan.

Thus, the Japanese leadership would like to alleviate the heavy burden of territorial disputes directly with the three neighboring countries, including South Korea. With her, as you know, Japan dispute over sovereignty over the Dokdo Islands (in Japanese, Takeshima).

Apparently, this goal was confirmed by the demonstrative presence of Prime Minister Abe at the opening of the Olympic Games in Sochi on the background of the failure of a number of Western leaders to arrive there. Thus, apparently, Japan is very interested in maintaining a non-confrontational relations with Russia in the expectation of further policy tighteningby Beijing against Tokyo on territorial and other issues.

It is clear, however, that no matter how relations between Japan and China, Russia wants to have on her Far Eastern borders the countries, with whom she could build good-neighborly and mutually beneficial relations in the sphere of economy, security and other areas. The reducing of tensions between Tokyo and Beijing and solution of complex problems between them, including territorial, on the basis of constructive dialogue will be in her interests and the interests of the entire Asia-Pacific Region.

Geopolitical logic dictates Russia pursue a policy of equal distance in relation to Japan and China. However, such events in 2014, as the reunification of the Crimea with Russia and the development of the situation around Ukraine can make adjustments to the specified logic.

At the moment the Japanese media are actively involved in deployed in the West a fierce campaign of criticism of Russia for the reunion with the Crimean Peninsula. However, the Japanese government found itself in a difficult position. He has to find a balance between the desires to preserve accumulated to date, positive relations with Russia, on the one hand, and a demonstration of loyalty to its chief and only military-political ally - the United States, on the other. The latter is especially important for Tokyo in mind all the same notorious "China threat". Besides that, Tokyo, unlike the United States, very much needs Russian energy resources, primarily in connection with the actual freezing of its nuclear power after the accident at the nuclear power plant "Fukushima-1" in March 2011.

And the sanctions are more symbolic: the suspension of negotiations on visa facilitation with Russia and cancel of the planned investment negotiations, as well as on cooperation in the military sphere and in space.

 It should also be noted the fact that in the framework of the sanctions Tokyo after Washington announced 23 high-ranking figures of Russia banned in Japan. Then was denied entry into Japan of yet some Russian figures, which, as is considered in Tokyo, are involved in the situation in Ukraine. Finally, Japan prohibited to post on their financial markets the shares of a number of leading banks of Russia, as well as exports in her military technology and dual-use goods.

However, it must be emphasized that Russian banks are not borrowing money in Japan and imports from Japan of goods for military or dual-use has never been carried out. Thus, the entire set of sanctions of Japan against Russia does not produce any economic damage to her.

However, one cannot exclude the possibility of further tightening of Japan's position in relation to Russia's actions in the situation in Crimea and Ukraine. In his speech in Parliament on March 19, Abe for the first time condemned Russia, stating on the unacceptability of attempts to alter the status quo by using the threat of force. However, some commentators believe that this statement has a dual purpose: it is addressed also to China about its activities around the Senkaku Islands.

It is likely that in future, under pressure from Washington and Brussels Tokyo will more actively coordinate with them in terms of "punishment" of Moscow in the framework of the "Sevens". Tokyofearsabout the fact that if, say, "not to punish" Moscow for the Crimea, then this may encourage China to deprive Japan the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. It is this theme that prevailed at the meeting of Abe with U.S. President Obama in April 2014 in Tokyo.

However, despite pressure from Washington, on the initiative of the Tokyo Putin and Abe met on the sidelines of the recent APEC summit in Beijing. Thus the Japanese side demonstrates a desire to continue the dialogue with Russia at the highest level in the hope to find a satisfying Tokyo solution of the territorial dispute with Moscow.

The Crimean situation creates for the Japanese government's dilemma in relation to this dispute. On the one hand, according to some Japanese experts, prospects of isolation of Moscow can force it to make concessions in this dispute. On the other hand, Russia's actions in the Crimea, one may guess, can dispel any illusions about the willingness of Putin to pass to Japan any disputed Islands included in the southern Kuril Islands.

In any case, it is obvious that the scenario of further development of relations between Russia and Japan largely depends on the position of Tokyo in the situation in Crimea and Ukraine. As was mentioned in the newspaper «Japan Times», Japan will have to walk a fine diplomatic line, which recognizes the interests of Russia in Ukraine without the consent of the dismemberment of a sovereign state. This balancing act, according to the newspaper, is just beginning.

Thus, it seems that in the triangle Russia-Japan-China in the relation to the territorial problems, there is some interdependence: the more Tokyo will lean on Washington, the more Moscow will be closer to Beijing.

And the last one. In the context of growing globalization bilateral territorial disputes have become increasingly interconnected and acquire common regional or global nature. If you take a global dimension, then more recently it was hard to imagine that the territorial issue of the Crimea in the Black Sea may have an impact on territorial disputes in the triangle Russia-Japan-China in the Pacific.

As for the regional level, primarily this trend applies to East Asia, where the problems of sovereignty over the disputed Islands in the East China and South China seas are increasingly turning into a thread of single tangle of territorial conflicts. And it is not only objective factor that China due to its geographical location is involved in these controversies in both seas. Largely acts such subjective factor as Japan's desire to create in the entire Asia-PacificRegion anti-Chinese coalition of countries that, according to Tokyo,concerned about the growing military power and aggressive Chinese policy in respect of a number of disputed Islands in these seas.

Valerii Kistanov, Director of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
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