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____________________________________________________________ H-DIPLO ROUNDTABLE Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, _The Northern Territories Dispute and Russo-Japanese Relations, 2 vols, Volume 1, _Between War and Peace, 1696-1985_, Volume 2, _Neither War Nor Peace, 1985-1998 (Berkeley, California: International and Area Studies Publication, University of California at Berkeley, 1998). Hiroshi Kimura, _Distant Neighbours, 2 vols, Volume 1, _Japanese-Russian Relations under Brezhnev and Andropov_, Volume 2, _Japanese-Russian Relations under Gorbachev and Yeltsin_ (Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2000). Roundtable Editor: Thomas Maddux Reviewers: Tsuneo Akaha, Tuomas Forsberg, Peggy Meyer, Alexei Zagorsky ________________________________________________________________ Commentary by Peggy Meyer Simon Fraser University Why has there been so little change in Russia's relations with Japan during the past decade and a half in comparison with the far more dramatic changes in Russia's relations with other countries? Gorbachev acquiesced in the dismantlement of the socialist regimes in East Europe, the reunification of Germany, the end of the Communist Party's dominance of the Soviet system, and the dissolution of the USSR. He actively promoted the reduction of tensions with the United States, the normalization of relations with China, and the establishment of formal diplomatic ties with the Republic of Korea. But when it came to Japan, Mikhail Gorbachev was unable and perhaps even unwilling to make the compromises needed to break the territorial logjam that prevented the signing of a peace treaty and the normalization of bilateral relations. When Boris Yeltsin became president of a newly independent Russia and reoriented its foreign policy in a pro-Western direction, it was widely anticipated that he would move quickly to normalize relations with Japan. Instead, Yeltsin's radical pro market domestic economic reforms soon provoked strong domestic opposition which spilled over into the foreign policy arena. Relations with Japan became a focal point for Yeltsin's critics. Yeltsin announced a last minute cancellation of his planned September 1992 visit to Tokyo. Russia's foreign policy became less pro Western and more Eurasian in focus. Relations with China radically improved, but the anticipated breakthrough in ties with Japan failed to materialize. To what extent was this lack of movement attributable to failure first by Gorbachev then by Yeltsin to understand the potential benefits of improving relations with Japan and to support the concessions needed for compromise? To what extent were they constrained by domestic politics? Did Japanese policy makers understand and react appropriately to the significant changes that were taking place first in the USSR and then in Russia and to the opportunities and challenges they presented? Did they show a realistic appreciation of the intentions of policy makers in Moscow and the constraints under which they were operating? Was Japanese intransigence to blame for the lack of progress in relations with Russia? These are only a few of the questions that are addressed in two, monumental two-volume studies of relations between Russia and Japan. The authors of both these works are highly qualified to address this subject. Hiroshi Kimura, professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, and Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, are Japanese, fluent in Russian and English, who have spent a life time studying Russia and its relations with Japan. Hiroshi Kimura, author of _Distant Neighbors_ is known to have close relations with Japanese policy makers. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, author of _The Northern Territories Dispute_ and _Russo-Japanese Relations_ has been a critic of Japan's policy toward Russia. Not surprisingly, their works reflect these differences. Hasegawa argues that "neither Japan nor Russia has an absolutely incontestable legal claim to the disputed islands". He provides evidence suggesting that Kunashiri and Etorofu historically were considered part of the Kurile islands whose ownership Tokyo renounced in the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty. However, the USSR refused to sign the Treaty which, therefore, did not specify to which country they were being transferred. The 1956 Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration determined that the Habomais and Shikotan would be returned to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty. Sovereignty over the two larger islands, Kunashiri and Etorofu, will have to be decided by negotiations, not by law.(Hasegawa, II, pp. 525-528) Kimura stresses that Kunashiri and Etorofu as well as the Habomais and Shikotan are Japan's inherent territories.(Kimura, I, p. 59) Both Hasegawa and Kimura support Tokyo's goal of seeking the return of all four disputed islands. However, there are differences between them regarding how best to attain that objective. Hasegawa does not ignore barriers to compromise on the Russian side. But he places more emphasis than Kimura on obstacles in Japan. Hasegawa acknowledges that Tokyo's policy toward Russia evolved in response to changes in Moscow and to international pressure. However, he argues that Tokyo's policy did not change radically and rapidly enough to persuade Gorbachev or Yeltsin that compromise was possible. Hasegawa blames the limited flexibility in Tokyo's policy on what he calls the "northern territories syndrome": the domination of policy toward Russia by the Gaimusho's Russian desk and the priority which they attached to the territorial dispute, leading to the relative neglect of other aspects of the relationship. He believes that the territorial dispute was useful for Japan's conservative government. The illusion of a Soviet threat provided a rationale for Japan's defense buildup and for Japanese cooperation with the United States, China and the Republic of Korea. Removal of this perceived threat could unleash a "deluge" of foreign policy problems.(Hasegawa, II, p. 540, p. 545.) Kimura by contrast places greater stress on what he perceives as a real security threat emanating from the USSR. He argues that the main barrier to improving Soviet-Japanese relations was not the territorial dispute but the USSR security threat which continued even after Gorbachev's accession to power. Kimura strongly opposed a territorial concession by Japan. He was fearful that the USSR would see it as a sign of Japanese lack of resolve which could undermine Japanese security.(Kimura, I, p. 69) Instead, he called on Moscow to make a concession as a token of Soviet good will. Hasegawa maintains that the prospects for compromise would have been enhanced if Tokyo had shown more flexibility regarding the territorial dispute either before 1989 or immediately after the Soviet collapse. (Hasegawa, II, p. 541). He acknowledges that strong domestic constraints and Gorbachev's own "intellectual inability to accept compromise" posed a significant barrier to a territorial settlement during his April 1991 visit to Japan. Still, according to Hasegawa, on other, far more vital security issues, Gorbachev showed a willingness to change his mind. He might have done so on the territorial issue as well if Tokyo had shown an inclination to compromise.(Hasegawa, II, pp. 538-540) Kimura agrees that compromise was impeded by wide ranging Soviet domestic opposition and by Gorbachev's own attitude. (Kimura, II, pp. 85-94). But he also blames misleading messages sent by Japan's Foreign Minister Abe Shintaro, who met Gorbachev in January 1990, and by Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Ozawa in a statement later that year. Whereas Hasegawa praised signs of flexibility by Abe and Ozawa, (Hasegawa, II, pp. 344-45, 348), Kimura feels that their new initiatives reduced the incentive for Gorbachev to make a territorial concession. (Kimura, II, pp. 78-79) Hasegawa believes that the cancellation of Yeltsin's planned September 1992 visit to Japan could have been avoided. He maintains that Japan's Foreign Ministry underestimated the domestic constraints on Yeltsin and exaggerated the prospects for a Russian concession. Instead of pushing Yeltsin so hard to reach a settlement, the Gaimusho should have heeded warnings that it would be better to treat Yeltsin's visit as only a first step.(Hasegawa, II, pp. 459-460) After the cancellation of Yeltsin's planned visit, only limited progress was made toward resolution of the territorial dispute. Despite the territorial stalemate, there were signs in the late 1990s that Moscow and Tokyo were interested in improving their relations. This new interest was reflected by expanding military ties and growing cooperation in other areas. Hasegawa and Kimura are in broad agreement that Japan's desire to improve relations with Russia was sparked by growing concern about an increasingly powerful China and about instability on the Korean peninsula and elsewhere in Asia. (Kimura, II, pp. 204-05) (Hasegawa, II, p. 553) Russia was interested in improving relations with Japan to counterbalance its closer relations with China and pressure from the West. Another motive was to seek Japanese cooperation in the development of the Russian Far East. (Hasegawa, II, pp. 498-499) (Kimura, II, pp. 183, 187, 230) Tokyo's new interest in improved relations with Moscow was reflected in a July 1997 speech by then Prime Minister Hashimoto. Hashimoto's speech stressed developing Russo-Japanese relations based on trust, mutual interest, and a long-term perspective. Hasegawa claims that Hashimoto's speech and Russia's positive response reflected growing recognition by both sides that the northern territories problem was not likely to be resolved any time soon. (Hasegawa, II, p. 547) Kimura disagrees. He stresses that the term "from a long-term perspective" was misinterpreted to signify Tokyo's willingness to postpone a territorial settlement until some time in the twenty-first century. What Hashimoto meant was the opposite. He wanted to resolve the territorial dispute by the end of the twentieth century to enable Russia and Japan to build good relations in the next century. (Kimura, II, pp. 211-214) My own research suggests that Tokyo was hoping to take advantage of Yeltsin's presidential victory in June 1996 and his renewed vigor in early 1997 to press for a territorial settlement before the end of his term in office. At the November 1997 no-neckties summit in Krasnoiarsk, Yeltsin and Hashimoto pledged to do their utmost to resolve the territorial dispute by the year 2000. However, this deadline was not met. At a summit in Kawana the following April, Hashimoto proposed a peace treaty drawing the border line north of the disputed islands. If Moscow had agreed, it would, in effect, have recognized Japan's residual sovereignty over all four islands. In return, Tokyo was willing to allow indefinite Russian administrative control of the disputed islands, including the Habomais and Shikotan, after the conclusion of a peace treaty. (Kimura, II, pp. 218-219) Yeltsin rejected Hashimoto's proposal in November 1998 when Japan's new Prime Minister, Obuchi Keizo, visited Moscow. The Russian president suggested that Moscow and Tokyo conclude a peace treaty that did not include resolution of the territorial dispute which should be decided by a subsequent treaty. Hasegawa argues that Japanese no longer are afraid that the Russians may "eat and run" if cooperation is expanded before resolution of the territorial dispute. Russians no longer suspect that Japan's efforts to expand economic cooperation are intended to gain leverage over Russia.(Hasegawa, II, p. 557) Kimura by contrast points to strong Japanese apprehension that Russians are interested only in obtaining economic assistance from Japan while intending to defer forever resolution of the territorial dispute. Yeltsin's November 1998 counterproposal reinforced this Japanese concern.(Kimura, II, pp. 220, 235) Kimura hints that if Yeltsin had not become seriously ill in late 1998, he might have been willing to reach a territorial settlement with Japan by the year 2000. When Yeltsin proposed at Krasnoairsk that Russia and Japan conclude a peace treaty by the year 2000, he did not deny that a peace treaty would include a resolution of the territorial dispute. By the following November, pressure from Foreign Minister Primakov and Russia's Foreign Ministry forced an ailing Yeltsin to back down.(Kimura, II, p. 279) Would Yeltsin have agreed to a territorial compromise if he had not become ill? It is doubtful in my view. Kimura suggests that Yeltsin was interested in ensuring his place in history as a "wise leader". (Kimura, II, p. 212) However, an eminent Russian Japanologist suggested to me that he could not understand why the Japanese would think that Yeltsin would ensure his place in history by giving away four islands. Another Russian specialist on Japan remarked that even when Yeltsin was a lame duck, he had to be concerned about public opinion. It was important for Yeltsin to control the choice of his successor to guarantee good treatment of his family. Hashimoto's Kawana proposal reflected a serious Japanese misunderstanding of Russian thinking. Tokyo's suggestion that Russia renounce sovereignty over the disputed islands in return for administrative control implied that the disputed islands were important to Russia primarily for their material and strategic value, not for symbolic reasons. This assumption is not correct. Certainly, many Russians prize the disputed islands because of their material and/or strategic value. But they also are important for symbolic reasons. One prominent Russian former diplomat told me that it would have been easier for us to accept Russian residual sovereignty over the disputed islands and Japanese administrative control, than to accept the offer they made at Kawana. Tokyo and Moscow still are interested in improving their mutual relations. But there are barriers to a resolution of the territorial dispute. Each feels that the other country needs it more than it needs the other. Therefore, the other side ought to make a concession. Kimura observes that "the [territorial] issue cannot be resolved unless the Russian side is prepared to make a concession. In Russo-Japanese relations since the end of the Cold War, the correlation of forces has been increasingly in Japan's favor. Japan has almost everything that Russia has to offer and can do very well without Russia. Conversely, there are many things that Russia would like to get from Japan." (Kimura, II, p. 110) Kimura suggests that a territorial concession would bring Russia a number of benefits including greater access to Japan's vast economic capabilities and its scientific, technological and management know-how as well as the support of "the region's dominant power", Japan, for Russia's "full-fledged membership in the Asia-Pacific community." (Kimura, II, pp. 126-127, p. 211) Kimura stresses that Japan is "in a fortunate position to be able to choose rather freely, from a long list" of possible future trading partners and that Russia is only one option.(Kimura, II, p. 244) The problem is that Russians do not necessarily share Kimura's perspective. Many Russians believe that growing concern about China will induce Japan to cooperate with Russia and to support its active participation in Asia-Pacific affairs with or without a territorial concession. As far as economic cooperation is concerned, Japan is not Russia's only prospective or even preferred partner. Copyright (c) 2000 by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact H-Net@h-net.msu.edu or H-Diplo@h-net.msu.edu.