Japan-Russia Relations: Tokyo's Balancing Act

Japan-Russia Relations: Tokyo's Balancing Act

Japan's relationship with Russia has historically been a complicated one. Tokyo has been trying to manage its relations with Moscow by a double-track approach: pursuing the resolution of the territorial dispute over Northern Islands while trying to develop its diplomatic relations with the consideration to energy, relations with China, etc. When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe first returned to the office in 2012, Russia was one of the countries that Abe considered to have great potential in advancing its relations. Hopes were high that Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin may be able to finally resolve the territorial dispute, which would have had the potential to result in Japanese investment in Russian energy resources, assisting Japan's energy security needs in its post-Fukushima era. However, Russia's incursion into Crimea halted the rapprochement. The shoot-down of the Malaysian Airline Flight 17 by suspected pro-Russian separatists complicated the matter even further for Japan, as Japan has been compelled to join the G7 in condemning the incident and imposing sanctions against Russia. Indeed, though Putin was supposed to meet with Abe in Tokyo in the fall of 2014, the prospects for a summit meeting seem increasingly unlikely. Japan has limited room to maneuver: it cannot jeopardize its relationship with the US by undermining Western solidarity, yet upholding USu policies will further derail Japan's efforts to improve bilateral ties with Russia. Dr. Yoko Hirose discussed the balancing act that Tokyo must play, in order to attain its strategic interests.