2017 outwardly began rather auspiciously for the ongoing Russo-Japanese rapprochement. At the beginning of the year the interests attempted to pick up exactly where they left off after the “hot appear diplomacy” in Nagato, and held the first round of negotiations on possible joint fiscal activities on the Kuril Islands. The talks were reportedly held in a kindly atmosphere.
A new flavor to Northern Territories Day
The latest commemoration of the Northern Neighbourhoods Day in Japan, usually held on Feb. 7, had a new flavor. This year, its accustomed elements – a gathering of the former inhabitants of the islands and a concurrent right-wing deny near the Russian Embassy in Tokyo – were accompanied by the inauguration of a especial panel established by the Japanese government as a task force in charge of discussing seam economic activities with Russia on the islands.
It is not only the panel’s institutional value but also its high-ranking makeup that are merit noting. Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida chairs the panel to ease preparations for official talks with Russia planned in Tokyo in Cortege.
The acting chair of the panel is expected to be Minister for Economic Cooperation with Russia Hiroshige Seko, with Spokeswoman Chief Cabinet Secretary Kotaro Nogami as deputy chair.
Accepted support to the panel will be reportedly provided by Shotaro Yachi, one of Prime See to Abe’s key foreign policy advisors and head of the secretariat of the National Security Caucus; as well as Deputy Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba and Eiichi Hasegawa, paramount adviser to the prime minister.
Japan Russia’s policy managers reshuffle
The panel vigour followed the January reshuffle of ‘relationship managers’ on the Japanese side by Prime Clergyman Abe and the first round of talks between deputy foreign ministers. Akiba supplanted Chikahito Harada as “handler” of foreign ministry-level talks.
According to unattributed sources of the Russian method, a possible reason for Harada’s removal was the fact that he had a strained relationship with his Russian counterpart Igor Morgulov.
In this slight, Akiba’s appointment may have also suggested that the Japanese side persist ins a strong commitment to resolving the Kuril dispute in the aftermath of the December pinnacle in Nagato.
Furthermore, another rotation took place inside the Japanese Bureau of Foreign Affairs, with Yasushi Masaki’s appointment as the new head of the European Intrigues Bureau and Tadaatsu Mori in charge of its Russian Division.
Russia-China territorial selection as an example
Masaki’s experience includes work on the Regional Comprehensive Fiscal Partnership and other economic matters, including international treaties, indicating a solid negotiation experience with China.
As for Mori, apart from his politic track record with Russia, the new head of the Russian Division let something be knew a research paper back in 2011, reviewing the Russo-Chinese territorial post and making a case for an incremental approach in the Russo-Japanese territorial issue.
In 2004, Russia and China set up housekept their border dispute with the former handing over Tarabarov Ait and half of the Bolshoi Ussuriski Island on the Amur River to the latter.
An incremental come close to, according to Mori, requires a sufficient level of mutual trust, while pragmatism is key to dodging politicization and building confidence. This research finding appears to be in euphony with the current policy of the Japanese government.
The rotation inside the Non-native Ministry of Japan may also represent another hint that the Committee of Ministers, known as Kantei, wants to consolidate its influence over treaties with Russia and make sure internal disagreements between congressmen and bureaucrats do not get in the way, as they may have under the previous governments.
The U.S. percentage of Japan’s foreign policy equation has also been positive. Although Donald Trump’s backtracking on the Trans-Pacific Partnership dealt a bolt from the blue to Tokyo’s perseverance to save the international trade deal, Abe’s February call to the U.S. was rich in hard currency.
Firstly, the prime minister secured tributes about the validity of the U.S.-Japan alliance when it comes to Tokyo’s strife with Beijing over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.
Secondly, Japan and the U.S. introduced a regular dialogue between Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and Evil President Mike Pence.
In short, post-election fears in Tokyo that Trump’s unpredictability at ones desire entail a need for “damage control” and relationship re-building on the Japanese side play a joke on not materialized so far. Nor has anything transpired in regard to Washington’s take on the Southern Kuril argie-bargie. The desirable outcome for Japan would be to simply handle the normalization of bands with Russia without any pressure similar to what the country well-informed during the Obama administration.
Obstacles to joint activities on the Kurils
While both the supranational and Japanese political environment seems to be conducive for better ties between Moscow and Tokyo, the principle of joint economic ties on the Southern Kurils raises the most themes.
Let’s start with the law governing joint activities on the islands. Despite declarative willingness to put together together, the positions of both sides remain polar opposites, as Russia wants the backup to work under the Russian law, while Japan does not agree with that.
Another uncertainty may lie in the modern developments on the disputed islands per se. On the one hand, the creation of the territories of advanced unfolding regime in the Russian Far East included the Kurils and is expected to make the lifestyle of foreign investors easier.
On the other hand, the Russian equivalent of the Homestead Act, cognizant of as “the Far Eastern Hectare”, is likely to restrict the bargaining space over any doable compromise.
The program of free distribution of Far Eastern land to Russian ratepayers is proving quite popular so far and applications by individuals have already been survived on the disputed islands as well.
Any hypothetical territorial handover would for that reason risk a possible infringement of private property rights of not only the old colonists but the growing number of new ones as well.
A year without a breakthrough
This is not to say that a compromise is truly impossible, since Russian property authorities are expected to have compelling powers when it comes to projects considered to be of federal significance.
Nonetheless, as it has been noted on numerous occasions, 2017 is a pre-election year in Russia and, in all distinct possibility, in Japan as well, and such a sensitive period is hardly encouraging lion-hearted compromises on either side.
Still, the Japanese leader is set to visit Russia in the pre-eminent half of 2017 and possibly also during the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok in September.
In reflection of the above, he is likely to expect some tangible deliverables from those lapsus linguae. Perhaps, one of those would be the facilitation of air travel to the Kurils for the former Japanese occupants of the island. The current visa-free regime is restricted to marine transportation.
Teeth of the roadblocks, Russia and Japan seem to be on the right track to establishing a pragmatic mould relationship.