Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Tadae Takubo

【#569】Japan-Russia Rapprochement Is Not Kids Game

Tadae Takubo / 2019.01.29 (Tue)

January 28, 2019

     Japan-Russia peace treaty negotiations promoted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are reportedly based on an unprecedented strategic vision. In a recent speech at a think tank in Washington, a politician who serves as special foreign policy adviser to Abe as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said a Japan-Russia peace treaty would be required for Japan to counter China, according to the Sankei Shimbun newspaper on January 9. Irrespective of whether this is true or not, I deeply grieve for the fact that the ruling LDP includes a politician who easily speaks of a national strategy.
Can Japan prevent China-Russia collusion?
     What matters here is how to think of a national strategy. Japanese have been too naive to discuss it. Prompting Japanese politicians, business leaders and bureaucrats to find the significance of strategies was the July 1971 Nixon shock. The United States then decided President Richard Nixon’s visit to China without consulting with Japan and notified the decision to Japan just before its announcement. Shocked by the notification, then Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato was lost for words in annoyance.
     At the time when everyone was reluctant to speak of a diplomatic strategy, I advocated the creation of an institute of strategic studies on a monthly magazine. Then, I was harshly criticized by a University of Tokyo professor in a newspaper comment for having done so. It was a taboo to have an idea that President Nixon might have attempted to normalize relations with China to terminate the Vietnam War and configure a confrontation between a U.S.-China block and the Soviet Union.
     The special adviser was right in advocating that Japan should refrain from alienating China and Russia simultaneously. However, the question is how this is related to the improvement of Japan-Russia relations. It may be too simplistic to expect that if Japan tolerates Russia’s return of only two of the four northern islands Japan claims, Russia may thank and cooperate with Japan in countering China.
Folly of speaking of a strategy in public
     Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reportedly blasted the Japanese adviser’s remark as egregious. This may be a natural response. We should not underestimate other countries. Lavrov may take full advantage of the remark for diplomatic maneuver. How will China view the remark? Chinese may be laughing, beyond getting angry, at such responsible person speaking of a strategy in a manner to play a chess game.
     To go ahead with a strategy, any country must have enough power to resist risks. An environment also has to be created. The Nixon diplomacy worked well because then Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai were plagued with Soviet threats and attempting to team up with the U. S., practicing a “policy of making friends of distant countries while trying to conquer those nearby.” Nixon’s interest was identical to Mao’s.
     Sandwiched between big powers, Japan must work out careful strategies to survive. If a country without even a decent constitution confuses reality with games, it may destroy itself.

Tadae Takubo is Vice President of Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and Professor Emeritus at Kyorin University.