Russia-Japan: Expanding Dialogue Amid Turbulent Changes in Asia

Security dialogue between Tokyo and Moscow is necessary not only for bilateral relations which expect new horizons, but also significant in the context of regional and perhaps global balances.

Russia’s turn to the East results in Moscow’s openness to Japan. Prime Minister Abe approaches Russia through Vladivostok. This is especially true of 2018, when both Russia and Japan cerebrate the first-ever Year of Japan in Russia and Year of Russia in Japan. On July 31, a Japan-Russia “2+2” Ministerial Meeting between both Foreign Ministers (Sergei Lavrov and Taro Kono) and Defense Ministers (Sergei Shoigu and Itsunori Onodera) took place in Moscow to discuss topics of common concern. Incidentally this “2+2” formula took place in Moscow for the first time, and Mr. Onodera became the first Japanese Defense Minister to visit Moscow, though Mr. Nukaga had visited it as the Chief of Defense Agency in 2006.

Definitely, both Kim Jong-un and Trump were the main agenda of mutual interests. The Singapore Declaration of June 12 and the Helsinki Summit on July 16 opened new, but uncertain security circumstances for both countries. Urgent character of changing climate for both countries necessitate the meeting of these Ministers, in view of the coming Vladivostok Eastern Economic Forum (September 11th to 13th), where top leaders of East Asian countries are invited: Xi Jinping from China, Kim Jong-un from DPRK and Moon Jae-in from ROK.

The years 2018-2020 may become the turning point for Northeast Asia, where Russia and Japan will play no less important and cooperative role. Thus mutual interests can surpass the old antagonism of the two countries as “distant neighbors,” paving the way to becoming “benign neighbors.”

President Putin and Prime Minister Abe talked in May on the Peace Treaty between the two countries and agreed to meet this September in Vladivostok to talk about mutual agendas from security to economic cooperation, including projects on the disputed territories. In St. Petersburg, Abe said that the Sea of Japan is becoming a zone of economic cooperation, perhaps anticipating dynamic changes in Korea after the Singapore Declaration. Eurasian peninsulas are changing their geo-economics parameters from Yamal to Korea to Kamchatka where Japan-Russia joint projects on LNG reshipment are being planned.

On the other hand, however, security situations are also unpredictably transforming from the Arctic to Indo-Pacific regions, where even traditional security concepts of Westphalia are sometimes inadequate. Powers are multifaceted, culture and politics are hybrid.

Japan is not a country of ‘high politics’, but it is strong on economic and other dimensions. Japan has advocated the importance of comprehensive security, this time pointing to the importance of “nontraditional” menaces, especially drug trafficking and Islamic extremism.

Russians are criticizing the Japanese commitment for its position on missile defenses, especially when the future of the Helsinki Summit decisions on nuclear stability is cloudy. Japanese defense minister could have vindicated himself when the menace emanating from the DPRK was self-obvious, but not so certainly after the Singapore Summit.

Condominium of East Asia is not easy, but this difficulty necessitates dialogue between East and West, land power and sea power. The origin of “2+2” in Japan was solely limited with the US, but was newly instituted with Russian Federation in 2013 after the APEC Summit in Vladivostok. Russia and Japan are both Westphalian nations located in East Asia. Security dialogue between Tokyo and Moscow is necessary not only for bilateral relations which expect new horizons, but also significant in the context of regional and perhaps global balances.

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