A promising trend in relations between Japan and the Russian Far East has been put on ice by the coronavirus pandemic. As soon as the health emergency is under control, Tokyo should be bold in resuming ties with the region that is Japan’s closest geographic neighbor.
In 2019, Japan’s involvement in the Russian energy sector increased significantly, most notably with the purchase by a Japanese consortium of a 10% stake in Russia’s Arctic LNG-2 project. The Abe administration evidently hopes that these new investments will bring benefits, both in terms of energy economics, and as a means of furthering Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ambition to settle Japan’s territorial dispute with Russia. In both respects, the Japanese leadership risks disappointment.
Japan’s Prime Minister Abe has long sought to present himself as a skilled practitioner of international affairs, yet the abject failure of his Russia policy raises questions about his diplomatic competence.
While the Abe administration presents Aegis Ashore as an essential and relatively uncontroversial contribution to the defense of Japan from the North Korean threat, in reality the deployment of this missile defense system risks further destabilizing the security situation in Northeast Asia, especially with regard to Russia.
Although claimed as a success, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s latest meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin produced meagre results, demonstrating just how far his Russia policy has fallen short of his lofty ambitions.
Global warming is progressively creating a new reality that ships from East Asia, including Japan, might soon be regularly able to reach Europe more quickly via the shipping route that runs along Russia’s Arctic coast, from the Bering Strait in the east to the Kara Sea in the west, rather than using the conventional route via the Suez Canal.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been working hard to build a positive relationship with Putin’s Russia, but does any substantial reward wait at the end of the rainbow?