Executive Intelligence Review


Japan and Russia Post-World War II Relations Warm, U.S. Remains Cool

Nov. 20, 2018 (EIRNS)—Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Singapore Nov. 14, and broke new ground on a peace treaty and economic relations on their two “disputed islands.” Both sides agreed to speed up the signing of the Japan-Russia Peace Treaty on the basis of the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration, and Abe said that he would visit Russia again early next year.

An op-ed by Global Times editor Chen Yang published Nov. 18 in that Chinese daily unwrapped this happy development, and conveyed its lessons in diplomacy. Chen reports that the stage was set by Prime Minister Abe’s September re-election as head of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), strengthening Russia’s confidence in developing Japan-Russia relations.

With agreement by Japan and Russia on the peace treaty, bilateral relations between Japan and Russia will deepen, and progress will be made in resolving the territorial disputes, Chen says. According to Article 9 of the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration, the U.S.S.R. would cede the Habomai Islands and Shikotan to Japan. While the signed documents authorize settling the territorial dispute, Chen points out that mainstream public opinion in both countries is by no means unanimous on this issue.

A 2016 survey by the Levada Center, an independent Russian polling agency, showed that 56% of respondents oppose ceding any island to Japan; yet, the Japanese still want complete return of the four islands known in Japan as the “Northern Territories.” To overcome these differences on the territorial issues, Chen believes Abe will insist that Habomai Islands and Shikotan might be turned into “special economic zones.” Over time, Abe has worked to solve this dispute by strengthening economic cooperation with Russia on the disputed islands.

But the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty provides that American troops in Japan could be stationed on these two islands if handed over to Japan—Russia’s biggest worry. Therefore, the most likely result of negotiations is that both countries’ leaders agree to define the two islands as special economic zones.

Global Times’ Chen Yang says this conundrum in the treaty and the disputed islands shows that “the U.S. has long been the biggest barrier. The toughening U.S. policy toward Russia affects and impedes the deepening of Japan-Russia ties. The reason why top leaders of Japan and Russia agreed to accelerate the signing of the peace treaty this time is not only because of good personal relations between the two leaders, but also because Abe tries to maintain a diplomatic distance from the U.S.,” even if complete independence from Washington is not possible.