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Moscow and Tokyo: is a rapprochement possible?

May 21, 2015, 19:01 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
Japan's former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyamawith, his wife Miyuki and Russian State Duma chairman Sergei Naryshkin

Japan's former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyamawith, his wife Miyuki and Russian State Duma chairman Sergei Naryshkin

© Alexander Shalgin/Russian State Duma's press service/TASS

OSCOW, May 21. /TASS/. Tokyo’s decision to bring the theme of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the fore, as well as State Duma Speaker Sergey Naryshkin’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are both signs of a likely warming in bilateral relations, Russian analysts believe. Japan cannot but feel uneasy about the latest rapprochement in Russian-Chinese contacts. Also, it would like to demonstrate its independence to Washington. However, a breakthrough towards the solution of the territorial problem Japan insists on as a precondition for concluding a peace treaty with Moscow is hardly possible in the near future, contrary to Tokyo’s expectations, pundits say.

Russian State Duma speaker Sergey Naryshkin met with Japan’s prime minister on Thursday, although the possibility of such a meeting had been in question up to the last moment. At Wednesday’s meeting with Naryshkin the deputy leader of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, former foreign minister, Masahiko Komura, said that Japan would like to conclude a peace treaty with Russia, not signed since the end of World War II, "having resolved the territorial problem." In that context it was looking forward to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit.

On Monday, Japan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed to TASS that Tokyo was determined to push ahead with preparations for the Russian leader’s visit this year. According to the diplomats, Abe notified US President Barack Obama of this intention at their latest meeting last April. Putin’s visit to Japan, originally scheduled for the autumn of 2014, was postponed against the backdrop of the crisis over Ukraine. Japan then agreed to join the campaign of sanctions against Russia, but its measures looked rather formalistic. Besides, Abe was absent from the V-Day parade in Moscow’s Red Square on May 9.

The Kremlin welcomes the intention of Japan’s political forces to resume the dialogue with Russia, and it will consider Tokyo’s initiatives, should there be any, Russian presidential press-secretary, Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday about the possibility of Russian president paying a visit to Japan.

"Tokyo would like to show that it is capable of pursuing a policy that is independent to some extent," the deputy director of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), Vasily Mikheyev, said on the Kommersant FM radio station. "This is necessary against a background of booming Russian-Chinese ties. Japan is in no mood of remaining on the sidelines."

The head of the Japan Studies Centre at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Far East Institute, Valery Kistanov, agrees.

"Japan would like to see the Russian president’s visit to materialize. It feels it is falling behind China in relations with Russia," he told TASS. "This is the main reason why Tokyo has raised the theme of the Russian leader’s visit again. Russian-Chinese relations are beginning to look increasingly strategic, and this cannot but worry Japan. For economic reasons first and foremost: competition is underway for Russia as a source of energy resources."

The political factor, too, is of no smaller importance," Kistanov believes.

"Japan’s relations with China leave much to be desired, this is a hard fact. Its relations with Russia are not so acute. But the Japanese may suspect Russia and China are about to establish a closer relationship that would have a distinct anti-Japanese flavor," he said.

Also, Tokyo feels uneasy over the fact the two leaders celebrated the 70th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany in Moscow together and, in particular over Chinese leader Xi Jingping’s invitation to Putin to festivities in China on September 3 on the occasion of the end of World War II.

Kistanov believes that Abe is after restoring Japan’s more active role in the international scene.

"In this respect Russia is of special importance to Japan, because it is the sole country in Northern and North-Eastern Asia it can still have a normal dialogue with. Relations with China are spoiled. Those with South Korea are much worse. And North Korea is seen in Japan as the main nuclear threat."

Also, Kistanov remarks that Abe would like to show to Washington he is a resolute politician, determined to have a dialogue with Moscow in defiance of all advice he may hear from the Americans.

In any case, if Putin’s visit to Tokyo does take place, it will surely bring about an improvement in bilateral relations, economic above all, but not a breakthrough in resolving the territorial problem.

"Most probably there will be no such breakthrough at all, because the two countries still adhere to conflicting positions," the analyst said. "The chances they will change their mind and a peace treaty will be signed are slim, if at all. But at this point the process, the dialogue as such, is more important than a hypothetical end result."

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