Friend's enemy not my enemy: Why Japan is getting closer to Russia
Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is likely to visit Russia on May 26 to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin who recently won his fourth presidential term. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets told Japan's Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko, said reports.
Golodets and Seko met on Saturday, March 25, whereby they agreed to speed up coordination to facilitate economic cooperation in the run-up to the Abe-Putin talks. The two sides also emphasised on people-to-people contact through exchanges between universities on both sides and cooperation in the field of information technology.
Japan has come closer to Russia in recent years
Japan and Russia, despite their historical conflicts, have come closer in recent times. In 2016, Japan agreed to give Russia assistance in fields like energy development, industry, healthcare. In the latest Seko-Golodets meeting, Japan also showed an eagerness to give shape to as many projects as possible to help the people of Russia.
Russia also mentioned that Putin will continue to back the eight-point economic cooperation that Abe had proposed to the Russian president two years ago in Russia. Moscow and Tokyo reiterated their support for the same in December 2016 in Japan.
Last September, during the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, Putin and Abe also took time out to attend a judo competition together which shows the personal warmth the two leaders have developed.
Alarming for West but not rational from Japan's perspective
From the perspective of the democratic West, this is not a good news but international politics is more defined by pragmatic national interests than idealism.
Although countries like Japan and South Korea are linked more with the distant West than the geographically more closer regimes in Russia and China because of their belief in democratic principles and liberal economic values that eventually shape their common security concerns against authoritarian powers, recent developments in international relations also explain why Tokyo and Seoul have gone closer to Moscow.
These developments started more after 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea in eastern Ukraine, leaving the West flummoxed. Despite the historical reasons of conflicts over territorial claims, Japan did not hesitate in increasing economic cooperation with Russia.
While Moscow increased its oil and liquefied natural gas supply to Tokyo, the latter also focused on investing in Russia's Sakhalin gas projects. South Korea also followed suit and it bettered Putin's relations with the two East Asian powers even though they are two functional democracies.
A major reason why Japan has shown interest towards improving relations with Russia is geostrategic. As the US of President Donald Trump has become reluctant in supporting allies abroad, countries like Japan and South Korea have turned apprehensive because they are located in a volatile region.
To counter China and North Korea, Japan and South Korea needed a support and with the US in a retreating mood, Russia became the second best option to rely on. Japan can't make afford to make more enemies in its neighbourhood and thus the Abe leadership has decided to pursue pragmatism over idealism.
Geo-economics, the other reason
The other reason for the betterment of Japan-Russia relation is geo-economics. Japan is a country with little natural resources while its large economy requires a high quantity of energy to prosper.
Though it has focused on nuclear energy in recent times, the Fukushima disaster reduced public approval for that and Tokyo has to fall back on the conventional sources of energy.
Japan depends on West Asia for its energy supply but given the region's growing restlessness because of political reasons, Tokyo has counted Russia as the alternative source of energy. Siberia, which is home to large quantities of oil and gas reserve, is also closer to Japan and politically more stable than west Asia.
Russia also benefits from this for its economy too has faced hardships because of western sanctions imposed in the wake of the annexation of Crimea. Japan's interest in Russian natural reserves means more foreign investments and the Putin government wouldn't mind it.
To conclude, therefore, realism serves national interests better than high ideals and Japan has shown exactly that by prioritising relations with Russia when seeing its alliance with the West less beneficial.