Japan does not "understand" our Constitution
The statement of the Secretary General of the Cabinet of Ministers of Japan, Katsunobu Kato, about the intention of his state to seek a solution to the so-called "territorial issue", despite the adopted amendments to the Basic Law of the Russian Federation, confused a lot of people.
Earlier, President Vladimir Putin made it clear stating: "We want to develop relations with Japan and we will develop them, but we will not do anything that contradicts the basic law of the Russian Federation".
What should be done with Japan’s territorial claims after the amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation (Article 67, paragraph 2.1) clarified this issue? There are only two options.
The first one. According to the well-known position of Tokyo, "there will be no peace treaty without the return of the islands." According to the Constitution, it will not be possible to bring the Southern Kurils into the section of negotiations on demarcation. The termination of the dialogue in the previous form, which Japanese politicians have cultivated for many years, will lead to a cooling of relations.
The second one. It is possible to maintain positive dynamics if the key to the implementation of the idea of "joint economic activity" is found, which is not easy. If such a key is found, the parties will be able to determine the agreement on good-neighborhood and cooperation. This will require time.
Why are relations with Japan important for Russia? There are not many states with which Russia has got well-developing or simply developing relations. When we are talking about "former Soviet" or "post-Warsaw" new formations, the number is not significant. The degree of hysteria and irrational Russophobia takes front position.
The extension of START-3 helps to decide on the United States, the source of the main threats to Russian interests, which gives hope for the continuation of the dialogue. But NATO, as the main instrument of pressure, remains and becomes less predictable. On the European continent, the relative calm is disturbed by the eternal "insidiousness" of London. Problems are created by American bases on the territory of European countries. Canada and the European states that are part of the alliance depend on Uncle Sam, and are ready, as it seems to Washington, to stand on the front line on command. Ukraine very much wants to stand in this system, making a hostage of both itself and its patrons. The future of relations with Brussels has come into question as a result of provocations, US policy and the hysterical behavior of some "new" member states.
In the East, Japan and South Korea are also influenced by a senior ally, but there is no unified system. Japan, burdened with historical sins, has renounced the past and gained the status of the main US ally in the region. The Security Treaty works not only against Russia, but also against China and North Korea.
Seoul is concerned about economic and political tensions with Tokyo and Beijing, but is most wary of its brothers north of the 38th Parallel. Pyongyang, meanwhile, by refusing to stop its nuclear and missile programs, provokes Japan, the United States and South Korea.
Finally, in this whole picture, the partnership between Moscow and Beijing attracts everyone’s attention. These relations of "strategic partnership" do not yet cover security issues, and the priorities of the parties are different: economy, trade, development, technology, social stability.
Thus, between the West and the East, as between the two poles of power and influence, only Russia and Belarus stand "back to back".
That is why the desire to have good-neighborly relations with Japan is a kind of part of the "multi-vector" in Russian politics. Japan performs almost the same functions as Germany, but with noticeably less involvement in the economy and politics of the former enemy in World War II.
After the Crimea, Tokyo did not make explicit demarches, supported, as a member of the team, the restrictive measures of the G7. There was no frantic attention to the person of Tikhanovskaya. Solidarity with the position of the foreign ministers of the G7 concerning the "Berlin patient" was confirmed, but the media ask about the plausibility of the story of the "poisoning".
There is, however, a very strong irritant in bilateral relations. The Parliament, the Government, right-wing public organisations demanding the return of the Islands of the lesser Kuril Chain, including Tanfilyev Island, Anuchin Island, Yuri Island, Zeleny Island, Polonsky Island, Shikotan Island, and Signalny Island. They also demand the return of the large islands of Iturup and Kunashir, which belong to the Greater Kuril Chain. All territories are part of the Sakhalin region, their population exceeds 16 thousand people, the area is minore than 8.6 thousand square kilometers. The shelf and the economic zone of the islands by area are 296 thousand square kilometers.
The basis for these demands is the Treaty of Shimoda, the first treaty ever signed with Russia. According to this Treaty, the islands were ceded to Japan in 1855. Later, the movement of Russia to the east, its political influence in China and Korea, the construction of the hated railway for Japanese strategists with access to the Pacific ports led to the war of 1904-05. As a result, a Peace Treaty was signed in Portsmouth in 1905.
Article XII of the Treaty indicated that "the operation of the Treaty on Trade and Navigation between Russia was abolished by the war" and a new treaty was required to regulate trade. The head of the Japanese delegation said during the negotiations: "The war negates all the treaties. You have been defeated, and let’s proceed from the current situation." Appendix No. 10 to the protocols to the 1905 Treaty confirmed that all previous trade agreements were being annulled.
Then there was the war again, the First World War with the subsequent Japanese intervention in the Far East and Siberia, then the Second World War with the liberation mission of the Soviet Union in China, Korea, Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands.
Relations were restored in 1956, but then from signing a Peace Treaty on the terms of joint The Japanese side refused to sign the declaration (the transfer of Shikotan and the five islands of the Habomai group, but after the signing of the Peace Treaty) under pressure from the United States. Tokyo began to demand "all four islands", including Kunashir and Iturup. Then, in 1960, the Soviet side explained that the joint declaration on the "transfer of the islands" would remain in force "only if all foreign troops were withdrawn from the territory of Japan and the Peace Treaty was signed."
Today, against the background of this super-conflict history, the dialogue with Japan looks generally normal, except for the attitude of Japanese politicians to the Second World War and its results. Official Tokyo simply pretended to "forget" about this war, the surrender, the international decisions of the war and post-war period, and the Tokyo process at last. Paradoxically, a country that, as the winner in the war of 1904-05, canceled all previously concluded agreements, does not recognize the same right based on the results of the Second World War.
So, taking into account the Basic Law of the Russian Federation, diplomats will have to prepare for the fact that it will be impossible to continue negotiations in the previous way. From Tokyo’s point of view, this deprives the bilateral agenda of huge share of content. But what if a constructive approach is found to the idea of "joint economic activity", if we do not interpret "economic activity" as a step towards the resumption of requirements for territories?
The Japanese Foreign Ministry does not allow its citizens to visit the Southern Kuril Islands on a Russian visa. Will the Japanese agree to live and work on the islands according to Russian laws? So far, their politicians strongly disagree. And the population of the Southern Kuril Islands is not happy with this idea. There was information about the agreement that joint activities should not violate the legal positions of the parties, but the diplomats have not yet explained what this means.
Among the areas for joint projects in the Southern Kuril Islands, mariculture, greenhouse farming, tourism, wind energy, and waste processing were considered. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (2006-07, 2012-19) said at the time that joint economic activities are the way to conclude a peace treaty. During his premiership, Abe met with Putin more than 25 times, which added an aura of mutual understanding to the bilateral relations, restrained the unfriendliness of the political elite, and cultivated hope among this elite. In 2016 Abe proposed an eight-point economic cooperation plan and appointed a minister for economic relations with Russia. The projects were not large-scale, but included high-tech manufacturing, innovation, services, tourism, infrastructure, medicine and energy. All this, unfortunately, is stuck in bureaucratic approvals. And many Japanese politicians and observers were not happy about the likely positive impact of the projects on the Russian economy.
Japan remains a significant economic partner of Russia, although bilateral trade fell to $16.2 billion in 2020 (trade with Germany fell to $42 billion).
Ironically, ExxonMobil opened a representative office in Tokyo in 2002 to build an offshore gas pipeline for the Sakhalin-1 project, conducted surveys and calculations, but did not meet with understanding from the government and LNG importing companies. Japanese companies, especially leading ones, do not make significant decisions on their own, waiting for approval, financial and insurance supports. There are exceptions, where Japanese investors have already earned the status of "global", have relative freedom in making decisions. An example is the Toyota plant near St. Petersburg. The second example is the participation of Japanese investors in the Arctic LNG-2 project, which fell into the strategic category. The importance of this project also lies in the fact that Chinese investors are involved in it. The third example is Mazda Sollers, which has started mass production of engines at the plant in Vladivostok on the territory of Nadezhdinskaya advanced development. The products are shipped to Japan for Mazda Motor companies. It is expected to produce 20 thousand engines a year, the level of localization of production is still about 30%.
As an independent power, Japan may not pose a threat, but the same cannot be said for the US military bases and the tight integration of the allied strategies. In May 2019, a two-plus-two dialogue between the Foreign and Defense Ministers of Russia and Japan was held in Tokyo. Tokyo has been aggressively protesting measures to strengthen the security of the Russian Far East, including the Sea of Okhotsk and the Kuril Islands. The Russian side expresses concern about missile defense systems and other problems. In 2017 exchanges between the military departments were restored, which "knocks" Japan out of the system of American allies.
Nevertheless, the expenses of the "self-defense forces" in 2021 reached 51.7 billion dollars, they consist of about 240 thousand employees, mostly officers. Aviation is considered the most combat-ready in Asia, and ranks fifth in the world in terms of weapons. The fleet, as estimated, is superior to the fleets of England and France taken together, is capable of blocking the Straits. The navy and air force are set to cooperate with the US forces.
Neighbours, as well as relatives, are not chosen. In the east, Russia has four neighbouring countries, with one of which the entire first half of the last century was a time of fierce wars, conflicts and clashes. The resulting wounds have healed, but the scars continue to hurt. The sources of pain are different, but Japan is still unable to recognize these differences.