Shared concerns but different policies

Monday, 1. December 2008     0 comment(s)
Hiski Haukkala
Photo: M. A. Lantron/ Photo: M. A. Lantron/

My recent visit to Japan was an eye-opening experience in several respects. One of the most interesting aspects of the trip dealt with Japan’s relations with Russia. Interestingly, it seems that Japan shares many of the western concerns over Russia’s development: the derailing of democracy, the sustainability of Russia’s resource-based economy, and the conduct of its foreign and security policies, especially in the aftermath of the Georgia crisis.

At first sight this could be taken to mean that the prospects of a tri-partite policy on Russia between the EU, the new administration in the US and Japan could be bright. At least a certain commonality in basic outlook concerning Russia seems to exist. Having said this, it could be too much to expect Japan to become a very active player any time soon. The main reason for this stems from the fact that Japan’s exposure – both positive and negative – to Russia is much more limited than for Europe or even the United States. Thus far, Japanese companies have mainly invested in China, viewing it – and rightly so – as a safer destination. Also politically the ties between Japan and Russia have remained somewhat modest, a fact partially made understandable by the stalemate between the countries over the ownership of so-called Northern Territories (the Kurile Islands). Finally, it seems that Japanese foreign policy in general is not the most pro-active to begin with, with Tokyo preferring wait-and-see approaches instead of major policy initiatives. Taken together these factors would make it clear that a robust tripartite policy that would also include Japan should not be expected. This puts the onus on the new US president and the Europeans to agree on a badly needed joint approach to Russia. Maybe if the two can first get their Trans-Atlantic act together, the Japanese might then feel encouraged to join the effort?

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