Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence of the Russian Federation Visit Japan

On May 30-31, 2019, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and Minister of Defence Sergey Shoigu visited Japan to meet with their counterparts on the eve of the G-20 summit in Osaka, and ahead of a meeting between the leaders of both countries - President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Such consultations between the heads of the foreign policy and defence ministries, the so-called 2+2 format, were designed to build upon the emerging warming in Russo-Japanese relations and expand the list of topics of interstate cooperation, including, along with territorial issues, the pressing security issues in the APR.

These talks between the ministers of foreign affairs and defence of Russia and Japan revealed the persistent differences in the approaches of different countries to providing for security in the region. During the talks, the Japanese set forth their position on the implementation of the “free and open Indo-Pacific region” concept, which is based on the idea of ​​closer military, political and economic cooperation between the United States, Japan, Australia and India. Despite the fact, that this association does not yet have a clear form, its participants have repeatedly expressed their adherence to common values ​​and declared the need to “maintain a regional order based on the rules in force”. This concept, formulated by the Japanese side as a response to the Chinese Belt and Road initiative, can be considered as an attempt if not to restrain, then at least to counterbalance China's influence in the region. However, as it became clear from the statements made by Sergey Lavrov, this approach does not correspond to the Russian priorities of building a system of integrated, “indivisible” regional security. At the same time, as Lavrov said, the parties came to an understanding of the need to continue working on the issues of security architecture and cooperation in the APR at regional multilateral venues, including the East Asia Summit and other ASEAN-centric formats.

One of the themes of the Russo-Japanese S+2 negotiations in 2+2 format was the deployment of American-made anti-missile defence systems in Japan. Earlier, Tokyo announced its intention to speed up the purchase of Aegis Ashore missile defence systems, which was done also in order to reduce the deficit in Japanese-American trade against the backdrop of pressure from US President Donald Trump. Despite assurances from the Japanese side that these systems are aimed solely at guaranteeing Japan’s defence, Russia perceives this step in the context of the global US missile defence system deployment, and considers it a risk to country’s security. The expansion of cooperation between Japan and the United States in the military-political area, including the purchase and joint development of new weapons systems and military equipment, hinders closer Russian-Japanese defence cooperation. At the same time, the ministers of foreign affairs and defence of Russia and Japan confirmed their intention to cooperate in those areas of security, where there are opportunities and mutual interest, including countering terrorism and drug trafficking, preventing cross-border crimes, conducting joint exercises, and cultural and educational exchanges. A significant symbolic step was the visit by the Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation Sergey Shoigu to the combat command of the ground force of the Japan Self-Defence Forces, which is deployed in the Asaka garrison, with the aim to demonstrate the importance of personal contacts and trust between the defence ministers of the two countries.

Regarding the North Korean issue, both sides reaffirmed their commitment to the denuclearisation of the DPRK, welcomed the continuation of talks between Washington and Pyongyang, as well as the dialogue between North and South Korea. Nevertheless, differences in the approaches of Russia and Japan to resolving the situation on the Korean Peninsula still remain. Japan, which regards the DPRK as a “serious and imminent threat” to its security, has to rely entirely on the United States in terms of protection against possible missile and nuclear attacks. In addition to the nuclear-missile threat from the DPRK, the problem of “abducted Japanese citizens” is also acute in Japan, which insists on continuing international pressure on Pyongyang. According to the Russian side, the "North Korean problem" should be solved in the general context of creating a non-bloc security system in the APR. Russia also considers sanctions only as a temporary measure capable of encouraging Pyongyang to continue negotiations, and is in favour of easing them after the DPRK fulfils the conditions of the international community for disarmament and military tensions removal.

On the whole, despite the remaining disagreements between Russia and Japan in the military-political sphere, the continuation of the Russo-Japanese negotiations in the 2+2 format confirms the interest of the parties in joint actions aimed at building trust, mutual understanding and the search for areas for future practical cooperation. The regular consultations of the heads of the foreign affairs and defence ministries of Russia and Japan demonstrate a positive dynamic in the development of Russo-Japanese relations and strengthen the confidence that the parties will be able to maintain, at least in the short term, a rapprochement.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.