The Japan Forum on International Relations

In Memory of Late Chairman ITO Kenichi (WATANABE Mayu, President, JFIR)


JFIR Commentary

"JFIR Commentary" introduces news analyses and opinions in Japan on Japan's position in the international community, but they do not represent the views of JFIR as an institution.

April 20,2022

Russian Actions in Ukraine

There are some who insist that the reason Russia annexed Crimea was either because of “NATO’s eastward expansion, which made it necessary for Russia to act to defend its sphere of influence,” or that “the responsibility lies with the international community, which has not determined which basic principle takes precedence, that of national self-determination or that of non-intervention in another country’s domestic affairs.” I, however, believe that both of these explanations are exercises in sophistry, and that the essential significance of “Russian actions in Ukraine” lies elsewhere. NATO’s eastward expansion was not of its own volition, but rather, it happened on the request of the central and eastern European nations that had suffered under Russian oppression in the past. Romania’s former defense minister Ioan Pașcu—who worked to get Romania NATO membership—once confided in me his relief over getting it thus: “With this, Romania has, for the first time in its history, attained true security.” The issue of which countries the central and eastern European nations will ally themselves with is their sovereign decision and not something that Russia should dictate. While the issue of whether national self-determination or non-interference in another country’s domestic affairs takes priority is indeed something that remains unresolved in international law and, thus, is a source of instability in international politics, it can by no means be used by Russia to justify its actions in this case. This is because the essential significance of “Russian actions in Ukraine” does not lie in this area. Thus, what needs to be addressed now is what the essential significance of “Russian actions in Ukraine” is. This is fundamentally connected to “Russian actions in Georgia” in August 2008. Russia, having faced no sanctions by the international community for its actions in Georgia and, essentially, achieving territorial expansion as a result, has acquired a taste for such behavior, doing largely the same thing in Crimea. This view is the one that best demonstrates the essence of Russian actions. I believe that “governance by force” has been at the core of the Russian state from its imperial days through the era of the Soviet Union. Thus, I have since long sensed the Putin government’s dangerous tendency to revert to this ideology. I visited Russia in August 2000, shortly after Putin became President, and in the report I wrote after returning to Japan (published in the December edition of the magazine Shokun!), I predicted the following: “President Putin will spend the next ten or twenty years leading the construction of a regenerated Russia and will thus occupy a place in Russian history as an ‘architect’ comparable to Peter the Great and Stalin.” This prediction later proved to be accurate. The basis for my prediction was my judgment that Putin was establishing his authority based on “violence,” and that this was in accordance with the system of “Rikichi (rule by violence) ” that is part of Russia’s traditional political culture. Let me explain what I mean by “Rikichi” here. Those practicing “Rikichi” were, at the time, commonly known as “machine.” Later, it became a system of authority linked to the KGB (Russian secret police) and came to be known as silovik (the faction of force). Before long, they arrested the businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who represented the anti-Putin forces in the business world, and disbanded the oil company Yukos, which symbolized the oil and gas interests at the time. Indeed, “Rikichi” by the secret police, who wielded unlimited and absolute power, has been the traditional internal structure of Russia, with origins in the Oprichnina policy of Ivan the Terrible and later leading to Stalin’s Great Purge. The Putin administration inherited this and projected it outward, thus making it the “genetic makeup” of Russian foreign policy. This was, and continues to be, my theory on Russia. Recent Russian actions include sending members of the Russian army to Crimea in disguise (as members of a militia) and claiming that the results of a referendum on whether Russia should annex Crimea “reflected the will of the people,” based on which Russia unilaterally annexed Crimea. This was a typical “Rikichi” action, while at the same time, it was a highly conspiratorial act based on a meticulously prepared strategic plan. The Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia were seized in the same manner. This is reminiscent of the Manchurian Incident, in which the Imperial Japanese Army itself blew up the Manchurian Railway line and then blamed it on China, subsequently moving to establish control over the entirety of Manchuria. The 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia were similar actions. This indeed is where we need to look for the essential significance of “Russian actions in Ukraine.” What, then, is the new problem currently facing the international community? We could express it as follows: How should we deal with “rogue states” that threaten post-Cold War security when they are major powers such as Russia? Our handling of such states needs to proceed with an abundance of caution, but fortunately, we have our successful experience of the Cold War. Did Russia—a state ruled by violence—learn nothing from its defeat in the Cold War? The international community maintained as its basic stance, throughout the Cold War, the idea that “the use of violence to change the status quo is unacceptable.” If we are to take the “Putin doctrine” announced at the annexation of Crimea on March 18 as an expression of his actual thoughts, then the international community needs to prepare itself to respond with an understanding of the essential significance of “Russian actions in Ukraine.” (This essay is the English translation of a Japanese-language essay dated June 18, 2014 in which ITO Kenichi analyzed Russia. It has been published in memoriam of the author, former president of the Japan Forum on International Relations, who passed away on March 14, 2022.) p{text-align:justify; text-indent:2em}

ITO Kenichi

February 16,2022

The importance of the G7 and Japan’s role in a multipolar era

  Nearly half a century has passed since the inaugural Group of Seven (G7) Summit took place at the Château de Rambouillet on the outskirts of Paris. On the inaugural agenda of the Summit, which traces its origins to a 1973 meeting between the finance ministers of the US, West Germany, France, and the UK, was the response to the economic crisis in the US. However, the Summit’s role and significance have changed over the last fifty years, as the international community has become more polarized and complex. The year 2008 saw the emergence of a multilateral framework called the G20, while the G7 would go on to become highly institutionalized. With the dynamics of a world led by Japan, the US, and Europe undergoing a significant transformation in recent years due to the rise of emerging nations such as China and India, the questions of how to define international rules and how to form a new international order have naturally come to the forefront.     Looking at the events of the past several years, one can sense the nascent development of a configuration among the current G7 members that might rightly be called “the G7 vs. China.” Of course, the G7 does display some degree of a cooperative stance with China in spheres where the interests of the two nations overlap, but it is nevertheless the case, that at last year’s Summit, the US President Joe Biden framed US–China relations in antagonistic terms, and the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson sought to expand the camp of democracies under the “D11” banner. In addition, last year’s Leaders’ Statement arguably made this configuration all the more clear, not least by explicitly mentioning Taiwan for the first time. The G7 also expanded their foreign ministers’ meeting in the UK in December to include foreign ministers from the ASEAN region, a decision that was likely to have been taken with China in mind. Conversely, depending on how one looks at these events, they may send the message that the G7 cannot stand up to China unless it bands together; hence, caution must be exercised. This is especially true, since the stance toward China among the G7 countries are varied, with Japan, the US, and the UK sharing a strong sense of crisis that contrasts with the more cautious approach taken by Germany and France, which have deep economic ties with China.     Within this context, what is the role expected of Japan in the G7? Japan has been a member since the inaugural summit as a leader of liberal democracies, working towards the formation of a stable international order. Amid circumstances that see the G7 uniting in an anti-China context, would it not be best for Japan to sharpen its ability to coordinate with other countries and adopt more imaginative diplomatic policies that focus on global interests going beyond its own? What is important here, first and foremost, is to spread an accurate perception of Asia. While China is currently expanding both militarily and economically, each country differs in how it perceives China. This is due to differences in physical distance, cultural distance, or the strength of the country’s political and economic ties with China. In addition to being the only Asian member of the G7, Japan is also China’s neighbor. In that sense, the G7 still has great expectations of Japan as its window into Asia. Japan should meet these expectations by disseminating an accurate perception of Asia, and making the most of its uncommonly deft negotiation skills to settle disputes among the G7 members. It is also imperative that Japan actively develops policies from a wider perspective, encompassing Asia and the Indian Ocean.     In light of this, JFIR launched a study group called “Strengthening Japan’s Overall Diplomatic Capability: Possibility of Japan as a ‘Hybrid Power’” in 2020. This study group, in which I serve as the Vice-Chair, uses both quantitative and non-quantitative international indices as a basis for discussions to explore the kinds of “hybrid power” Japan could exercise to strengthen its national brand. We conduct research using the global think tank network we have at our disposal in the hope of supporting Japanese diplomacy from a Track II perspective. Aside from devoting all our efforts to what we can do, we would now like to focus on future developments in Kishida Diplomacy.   (This is the English translation of an article written by WATANABE Mayu, President, the Japan Forum on International Relations, which originally appeared on the e-forum “Hyakka-Seiho (Hundred Flowers in Full Bloom)” of JFIR on December 20, 2021.) p{text-align:justify}


December 16,2021

Discussions on strategic stability among the U.S., China, and Russia

      “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Who is the author of these words? It is not the former president Barack Obama, who appealed for a “world without nuclear weapons”. This is a joint statement made 36 years ago by the then-President Ronald Reagan and the recently elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, after a U.S.-Soviet Union summit held in Geneva (November 21, 1985). This sentence represents the basic principles for nuclear disarmament agreed upon by the two nuclear superpowers during the meeting. They recognized that any conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union would have catastrophic consequences and stressed the importance of preventing both conventional and nuclear wars. Before this summit, in 1982, President Reagan had proposed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). It was in the middle of the harsh Cold War era. Then, following the Reykjavik Summit in 1986, the two heads of state signed the 1987 INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty. I personally witnessed the two leaders signing the treaty in Washington D.C. Later, in July 1991, after the end of the Cold War, President George H. W. Bush and Mr. Gorbachev signed the START and pledged to deactivate thousands of nuclear weapons. The New START treaty was signed in April 2010, and in late January 2021, a few months before its expiration, President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a phone meeting and agreed to extend the agreement by five years.       The current U.S.-Russian relations have been built on the basis of these multiple negotiations. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Yearbook of January 2021, the U.S. currently has 5,550 nuclear warheads, Russia 6,255, and China 350. The nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and Russia have been constantly shrinking since the 1987 INF and are expected to decrease even further as they age and are retired. Will the U.S. be able to advance trilateral discussions—with Russia and China—on strategic stability, based on the principles jointly stated by the U.S. and the Soviet Union in Geneva? Unlike in the case of Russia, we don’t have the foggiest idea how the talks with China develop.       First, the reinforcement of Russian military forces requires caution. The country has recently deployed a submarine-launched cruise missile system known as Kalibr, which can be equipped with both nuclear and non-nuclear warheads, and placed the hypersonic glide vehicle “Avangard”, designed to breach anti-missile defense, on combat duty. The nation also recently conducted an anti-satellite missile test, generating over 1,500 pieces of space debris. This is the second anti-satellite missile test after China’s experiment in 2007, and it served as a reminder that the U.S. and Russia will have to discuss regulations on space weapons in the future.       Despite having an economy of the size of South Korea, Russia still tries to show its citizens that, as a superpower of the Cold War era, the nation remains an authority in nuclear disarmament negotiations. Some specialists in China taunt Russia as “Saudi Arabia with nuclear weapons”. In the global power scenario, Russia is contented with its position as “China’s junior partner” (Harvard University Professor Stephen M. Walt), but between the U.S. and Russia, there must be a common understanding of the nuclear deterrence theory and discussions focused on strategic stability. At first glance, China and Russia, whose authoritarian regimes are heavily criticized and pressured by Western nations, may seem to be in synchrony at the international stage. Their actual relationship, however, is surrounded by mutual distrust; hence, it would be unwise to push the two countries into a quasi-alliance even further.       Meanwhile, how is the dialogue with China developing? China has not joined the New START treaty despite appeals from the U.S. to participate in its nuclear disarmament negotiations with Russia. China, however, shows no sign of willingness to acquiesce. It is speculated that this is because China seeks parity with the U.S. and Russia in terms of the total number of nuclear warheads. Also, while the nuclear forces of the U.S. are gradually aging, China is steadily modernizing its arsenal. It is also building many underground facilities for intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which prompted the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, advisory of the United States Congress, to declare that “these qualitative and quantitative changes to China’s nuclear forces signal a clear departure from the country’s historically minimalist nuclear posture” (2021 Annual Report published on November 17).       President Biden and President Xi Jinping held a virtual U.S.-China summit on November 15 (U.S. time) and agreed to maintain dialogue to avoid accidental military clashes. Mr. Biden is also said to have expressed his concern about China’s rapid expansion of nuclear forces. While its arsenal is significantly smaller than that of the U.S. and Russia, the U.S. Department of Defense estimates it can grow to at least 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030 (the annual report on Chinese Military Power published on November 3). On November 16, the U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan revealed, in a Q&A session of a Brookings Institution webinar, that during the U.S.-Russia summit, the two parties agreed to proceed with “dialogues on strategic stability”. Mr. Sullivan said that “You will see at multiple levels an intensification of the engagement to ensure that there are guardrails around this competition so that it doesn’t veer off into conflict”. While it feels as though the countries ended the summit without any progress, it may lead to a new phase of nuclear arms negotiations.       However, how concrete discussions for strategic stability will proceed is unknown. Its circumstances are different from those of arms control negotiations between the U.S. and Russia, which even developed into an official framework through its long history. Therefore, the participants still have to find the best way to approach it, which means nuclear disarmament negotiations will not begin immediately. Whether those negotiations will be a three-country framework—U.S., China, and Russia—or a two-country framework—U.S. and China or U.S. and Russia—is still to be discussed. It is speculated that, if the U.S. and China initiate talks regarding strategic stability, the Senior Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, Air Force General Xu Qiliang, will be the liaison officer in charge. The main topics of the discussions will be nuclear weapons, cyber security, and how to report to each other in the event of a crisis.       Meanwhile, after the summit, President Biden declared he is considering launching a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics scheduled for February 2022. Hence, the U.S. and China will enter a new phase for strategic stability amidst a tense atmosphere in their relations. Can the Geneva Principles of 36 years ago be shared between the two countries? Perhaps China will show signs of willingness to discuss nuclear disarmament and, at the same time, produce no concrete result whatsoever and steadily expand its arsenal instead. Therefore, there is a treacherous road ahead; it is necessary to avoid miscalculations and find a way to evade global catastrophe. (This is the English translation of an article written by SASAJIMA Masahiko, Professor, Atomi University, which originally appeared on the e-forum “Hyakka-Seiho (Hundred Flowers in Full Bloom)” of JFIR on November 21, 2021.)


October 19,2021

Discussion of the Situation in Afghanistan

1. US foreign policy toward Afghanistan After the withdrawal of US troops, the American policy toward Afghanistan can be summarized in three points: (1) rapid evacuation of American citizens remaining in Afghanistan, and Afghans who cooperated with US military operations and US companies; (2) containment of the activities of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State—Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), operating from remote areas; and (3) realization of moderate governance by the Taliban regime, assuring that policies include a recognition of the rights of women and a cessation of reprisals against former officials of the now-defunct Afghan government. The geopolitical objective of preventing China and Russia from expanding their influence in Afghanistan has been abandoned, acting as a point of recognition that US diplomacy with Eurasia has turned a corner. All three points require reaching out to the Taliban, forcing the US to avoid confrontation with the Taliban. Since 2018, the US has been negotiating with the Taliban regarding the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and maintaining stability thereafter, and in February 2020 the two sides reached an agreement on withdrawal in May 2021. While avoiding confrontation and fostering cooperation with the Taliban is based on these cumulative negotiations, the outlook is not optimistic, and the US government is pinning its hopes on the phasecooperation with the Taliban with no other options available. The US government is also stepping up its efforts through Qatar, which has influence over the Taliban, and there is still the possibility of cooperation with China and Russia. Abdul Gani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban’s political arm, was released from custody in Pakistan in 2018 after the US designated him a negotiation partner, and the US maintains high hopes for collaboration with him. On August 23, after the fall of Kabul, CIA Director Bill Burns reportedly entered Kabul and conveyed the above three requests, including cooperation in evacuating Americans. The leverage the US has over the Taliban will be the Afghan assets frozen in the US and recognition of the Taliban regime. The former Afghan regime is believed to have $7 billion in government accounts on deposit at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, $700 million in the Bank for International Settlements, $340 million in special withdrawal rights at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and $2.4 billion in World Bank investment programs for developing countries. These assets are currently frozen by the US Treasury, which allows the transfer of personal funds alone to Afghanistan. The Taliban regime is seeking to utilize its assets in the US to run the country. However, the US does not recognize the regime as legitimate because it was established through a military coup of the former government, which was formed through democratic elections, and because of its demonstrated disregard for human rights. For this regime to be recognized internationally, the aforementioned three requests must be fulfilled to some extent. The new government, which assumed control on September 7, has been dominated by the Taliban and is not the “inclusive government” that the US sought—one that would include a variety of ethnic groups and women. In addition, the US opposes the appointment of senior members of the Haqqani Group, which is believed to have carried out large-scale terrorist attacks on US facilities and is designated an international terrorist organization, to key posts such as Minister of the Interior, and there is virtually no likelihood that the government will gain recognition. There is also significant potential that the militants will become more anti-American and allow various terrorist organizations to operate in the country. If the Taliban is unable to utilize its assets held in the US, it will have to rely on support from China and other countries and Afghanistan’s domestic economy to cover its expenses—not to mention relying on poppy cultivation. In the US, while the withdrawal itself is believed to be the correct course of action, there is growing criticism of President Biden, the US military, and the intelligence community for the hasty and confusing way in which the withdrawal was executed, and Biden’s approval rating is at its lowest since his administration took office. It is believed that Biden plans to regain public support by focusing on domestic policy, which is relatively highly regarded, such as measures against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and post-pandemic economic recovery. However, in the run-up to next year’s midterm elections and the 2024 presidential election, the Republican Party is repeatedly questioning Biden’s qualifications for the presidency by pointing to this debacle, especially to images of crowds swarming around a transport plane at Kabul International Airport. The Republicans have positioned the remaining Americans and collaborators in Afghanistan as being held as “hostages” by the Taliban, and have drawn up a campaign strategy that equates it with the 1979 hostage crisis at the embassy in Tehran, which was a major factor in President Carter’s failed reelection. If the evacuation of these people does not proceed, Biden will find himself in further difficulties. The Taliban has already demanded that Afghans who worked for the former regime’s technocrats and Western companies be prohibited from leaving the country, citing the need to rebuild the nation. The US is basking in the sense of liberation that the “longest war in US history” is over, and it is certain that Americans’ interest in Afghanistan will wane in the future, but it is unlikely that the US will be able to “get out of the way” easily, as it is expected that the Taliban will fail to govern the country, terrorist organizations will overrun it, the region will again be destabilized, and the US may suffer another terrorist attack. 2. Future outlook for Afghanistan The Taliban seized control of the entire country of Afghanistan far earlier than anticipated due to the general public’s opposition to the graft, corruption, and deteriorating security of the former regime. For this reason, it is believed that there is considerable support for the Taliban in Afghanistan today. However, as was the case in the 1990s, “eradicating corruption” alone are not enough to govern a nation. The Taliban’s centripetal force is the realization of a society based on Islamic Sharia law, and the conservative Afghan public has embraced the Taliban for this reason. Therefore, it can be assumed that if governance, including economic management, comes to a standstill, the Taliban will rely on the conservative segment of the population by further denying the advancement of women, etc., and strengthening its fundamentalist rhetoric. If this happens, it will be difficult for the international community to recognize the regime, it will not have access to assets held in the US, and there are concerns that it will deepen its ties with terrorist organizations and increase its financial dependence on the production of illicit narcotics. If governance does not succeed, there is a strong possibility that the country will revert to civil war, as conflicts within the Taliban, non-Taliban Islamist militant groups, moderates, and ethnic groups other than the Pashtuns (mainstream Taliban) will erupt in discontent. There is no question that the fighting will be far more intense than the Taliban’s current advance. 3. Policy recommendations for Japan Since hosting the International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance in 2002, Japan has been second only to the US in providing a massive amount of reconstruction assistance, amounting to 750 billion yen, and since 2003 has been leading the “disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration” (DDR) program for warlords and former national army soldiers, which was implemented until 2006 with positive results. Ideally, Japan, which is not regarded as an “enemy” by the Taliban, should provide various humanitarian and civilian assistance and also act as a bridge between Japan and the West. However, government-to-government assistance is difficult in the absence of state relations. Initially, humanitarian and civilian assistance will be on a small scale if the Japanese government does not recognize the Taliban regime. Japan also should not recognize the Taliban regime, since it has regressed in such areas as women’s rights. In addition, Afghanistan is not of life-or-death importance to Japan’s national interests in various aspects, such as energy, alliance with the US, cooperation with Europe, strategy against China, anti-terrorism, and non-proliferation. Now that the US has withdrawn from the region, and “acting in coalition with the US” is no longer necessary, Japan will almost certainly find no further reason to devote resources to the country. The US government has asked the Japanese government to help support the refugees who have been flooding into neighboring countries since the US military withdrawal began in earnest early this summer. The US is not requesting that Japan accept refugees within its borders. There have already been droves of Afghans who have fled to Pakistan, Iran, Central Asian countries, Turkey, and other countries as refugees following the Taliban’s coup. There is a clear need for support for these refugees through the UNHCR and local governments. The fact that the Taliban is accepted by many Afghans as a force to fight corruption and bring stability should not be overlooked, and must be recognized when drawing long-term support. Although the Taliban is dismissed as “evil” by Western governments and media, Japan’s Afghanistan policy can be broadened by reaffirming that there are expectations for Islamism in the region that differ from the Western values. In the future, China and Russia will position their support for the Taliban as a further failure of the “universal values diplomacy” envisioned by Biden, apart from the geopolitical move to fill the vacuum created by the withdrawal of US forces. Japan, as a free democratic democracy, should take the same position as the US, but that does not mean that the 750 billion yen in aid and DDR achievements over the past 20 years should be allowed to go to waste. Instead of being entangled in China’s and Russia’s engagement with Afghanistan, Japan should devise a strategy to restart its support ahead of the US. If the hurdles to unilateral initiatives by Japan are too high, joint projects with Pakistan and Iran may be possible. The US is looking for ways to stabilize and moderate the Taliban regime, as the turmoil in Afghanistan will be a further blow to the Biden administration. There will be more room for Japan’s activities to complement US policy in Afghanistan, which is currently in a bottleneck. Japan’s search for activities in Afghanistan should also be aimed at gaining a foothold in the broader Eurasian region. What is lacking is the ability to gather and analyze information. Experts who have mastered the local languages, have local knowledge of the land, and have human networks need to be cultivated for information gathering and analysis. Efforts advancing the selection of several geopolitical and geo-economic hotspots on the Eurasian continent and the training of experts should be enhanced. The development of such experts will not only accelerate Japan’s own intelligence gathering but also deepen intelligence cooperation with the US and with the countries of Europe. Cooperation with the US will be paramount, and an expansion of cooperation with the US intelligence community will be necessary. Strengthening Japan’s systems, including the establishment of a security clearance system, will also be required. (This is the English translation of an article written by SUGITA Hiroki, Columnist, Kyodo News Agency, which originally appeared on the e-forum “Hyakka-Seiho (Hundred Flowers in Full Bloom)” of JFIR on September 10, 2021.) p{text-align:justify}


August 02,2021

What is Putin’s Strategy on Japan? Vigilance needed on Russia’s ‘Peace Treaty’ Proposal

Talks between Japan and Russia on the Northern Territories are at a complete deadlock, at the lowest level in the history of negotiations. In the midst of all this, I could not believe my eyes at the recent reports in one Japanese media. On April 4, at an online conference with the heads of news agencies of various countries, President Putin stated, “I do not believe that negotiations with Japan on a peace treaty should be suspended,” although it is necessary to take into account the revision of the constitution containing a clause prohibiting the cession of territory. This statement was widely reported by the above-mentioned media, including several lengthy commentaries, with a surprisingly positive tone, because it implied that Putin had “overturned the claim of Russian politics that territorial negotiations with Japan were forbidden (by the constitutional amendment)” and that “a definite deterioration in relations has been avoided.” Since this media outlet defines itself as “Japan’s leading journalism” and in fact has a certain amount of influence, the Russian side is also paying attention. As has already been made clear by both Japanese and Russian senior officials, the Russian side is proposing to conclude a peace treaty that does not include the territorial issue. The reason why Japan and the Soviet Union were unable to conclude a peace treaty in 1956 was because they could not agree on this issue. In other words, the “peace treaty” that Putin and his team are proposing is essentially not a peace treaty in essence. What does this mean? The Putin administration’s aim is to conclude a treaty similar to the “Good Neighbor Treaty,” which has been a major goal of Russia’s strategy toward Japan since the Soviet era. It has been relegated to oblivion, except for a few experts and political insiders, but luckily or unluckily, one draft has been revealed. In January 1978, under the Brezhnev administration of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko forcibly presented a draft of the “Japan-Soviet Good Neighbor Cooperation Treaty” to Foreign Minister Sonoda Sunao, who was visiting Moscow at the time. In late February of the same year, without Japan’s consent, the draft was unilaterally published in Izvestia and Pravda( soviet major newspapers). Article 3 of the draft treaty stated, “the Soviet Union and Japan are obliged not to allow their territories to be used for any action that might damage the security of one of the parties,” and Article 4 stated, “the signatories are obliged to refrain from any action that might lead a third party to commit an act of aggression against either of them.” What this meant was that the “Treaty of Good Neighborly Cooperation” would have allowed a constant Russian interference in Japan’s internal affairs, including the elimination of U.S. military bases in Japan and other measures that would make it impossible to maintain the Japan-U.S. alliance. The contents of the treaty were considered insulting and caused outrage on the Japanese side. The late Professor Emeritus Kimura Hiroshi of Hokkaido University, who was a leading authority in the study of Russian diplomacy, criticized the treaty, saying, “It is like viewing Japan as if it were a satellite or ally of the Soviet Union.” (Kimura, History of Japan-Russia Border Negotiations, 1992.) There is no doubt that at the heart of Mr. Putin’s strategy toward Japan lies the weakening of the Japan-U.S. alliance and the separation of the two countries. As was shown at the G7 summit held in the UK, which President Biden attended for the first time, and at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels, Russia, along with China, is in severe conflict with the West and other advanced democracies. However, although Japan is a member of the G7, it has avoided proactive criticism of Russia and is prepared to proceed with economic cooperation in a quiet manner. For Putin`s Russia, Japan is the most useful country in the Western camp. As such, suspending negotiations with Japan and deliberately worsening relations is an unthinkable option for Russia. Whether it is called a “Peace Treaty” or a “Treaty of Good Neighborly Friendship,” If such a treaty is concluded with Japan, it will have the greatest significance for Russia’s strategy toward the United States. This is because the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty regime would cease to function and the alliance between the two countries would collapse. This would effectively place Japan in a “neutral” position and disrupt a part of the international encirclement of Russia by democratic countries. This alone is a great victory for the Russian side. However, if economic and technological cooperation, including large-scale projects and technical cooperation with Japan as an economic major power, expands substantially as a result of the conclusion of the “Treaty of Good Neighborliness,” it will be a blessing for the Russian economy, which has been suffering due to sanctions and other factors. In addition, it will help foster a pro-Russian atmosphere by stimulating human exchange in all areas including social, cultural, and artistic fields. Besides, it will also serve as a deterrent to China, which is Russia’s largest partner with a clear gap in national power, and thus has great significance in terms of East Asian strategy. For the Putin administration, which is struggling with a declining approval rating, this would be a tremendous tailwind. The chances of this happening are slim to none, but for Mr. Putin, it is certainly a dreamlike scenario that could lead to a breakthrough in his domestic and foreign policy. On the contrary, it goes without saying that for Japan, the conclusion of such a treaty would be a devastating blow to its national interests. The Northern Territories issue would be permanently shelved, inviting permanent interference in Japan’s internal affairs by Russia as a major military power, and making it impossible for Japan to even pursue an independent foreign policy. If this happens, Japan’s credibility with the West and other democratic nations will be greatly diminished, and it will be left in a state of de facto isolation. For Japan, this would be nothing more than a literal path to national extinction. This is truly the worst possible scenario. At the press conference, Mr. Putin stressed that “Japan and Russia are strategically interested in concluding a peace treaty.” However, these words should not be taken at face value. It is clear that the strategic interests of Japan, which is expected to be a leader of democracy in Asia, are not aligned with those of today’s Russia, which has become increasingly authoritarian and is thoroughly repressing Mr. Alexei Navalny and other democratic forces by labeling them as extremists. On the contrary, they are fundamentally antagonistic. To begin with, Mr. Putin was the one who completely changed the diplomatic line of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who ended the Cold War, and the first Russian President Yeltsin, who, as the leader of the new Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, upheld common values with the West and Japan. Mr. Putin made it more confrontational with the democratic camp led by the U.S., just like the former Soviet Union during the Cold War. Against the backdrop of a nuclear force as powerful as that of the U.S. and a variety of new weapons including hypersonic missiles, Russia, along with Xi Jinping’s China, is posing a challenge to the liberal international order and universal values. In this light, it is clear that Mr. Putin has no intention of suspending negotiations for a peace treaty with Japan, regardless of whether or not the constitution has been revised. If the negotiations are suspended, it will be difficult to promote economic assistance, such as the “eight-point economic cooperation” and the “joint economic activities” in the Northern Territories, which Russia most desires. Not only that, but it would also have a negative impact on Russia’s diplomatic strategy. It is clear that the suspension of negotiations will put Russia in a disadvantageous position in East Asian diplomacy, as it will lose the “Japan card” that it barely holds in its relations with China. This puts Russia into an inferior position against China as a “junior partner.” On the other hand, seen from the Japanese side, the government of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, which inherited the policy of negotiations on the Northern Territories from the previous administration of Shinzo Abe, would admit to a “major failure” in its policy toward Russia if negotiations were suspended. Therefore, the Japanese and Russian administrations are on the same team with different goals with both sides having no choice but to “continue the negotiations.” There is no doubt that it was Putin’s policy to include a clause prohibiting territorial cession in the revision of the Russian constitution, and this is probably intended as a major psychological pressure to make Japan give up the Northern Territories issue and accept the “Good Neighbor Treaty” more easily. The Japanese side should not be swayed by the various hard and soft pressures from Putin’s Russia. If we consider that the “suspension” of the negotiations will lead to an opportunity to reset the “negative legacy” brought about by the Abe/Putin negotiations and to rebuild the strategy toward Putinist Russia, we cannot say that the “suspension” of the negotiations is simply a setback for Japan. When commenting on the Northern Territories negotiations, a Japanese expert on Russia once told me, “If I use a backward tone, I won’t be taken seriously, and it won’t make headlines, so the media won’t use me.” I’m sure Mr. Putin is well aware of the way the Japanese media and experts react to his every word. I have long believed that Mr. Putin effectively uses what sound like positive remarks at certain points as a “shot in the arm” in order to keep Japanese people’s expectations high. Since the “draw” statement about nine years ago, there has been no shortage of such examples. In other words, Russia may be convinced that in order to indirectly manipulate public opinion in Japan, there is no need for complex propaganda and information manipulation as is done in the West. This report on Putin’s remarks could even be called a “ misinformation.” It may sound harsh, but this media outlet is required by society to be highly public, and since it claims to provide “accurate and impartial news,” it is impossible to ignore it. This is a separate issue from freedom of the press. As Fiona Hill, a prominent scholar of Russian politics and a former official at the U.S. National Security Council , emphasizes in her book, 『Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin』 ,we should not take Mr. Putin’s words at face value. It is important to remember once again that the core of the current Russian government, including Mr. Putin, a former member of the Committee for State Security of the Soviet Union (KGB), is a professional in information warfare. (This is the English translation of an article written by TOKIWA Shin, Distinguished Research Fellow, JFIR / Deputy Foreign Editor of Tokyo Shimbun, which originally appeared on the e-forum “Hyakka-Seiho (Hundred Flowers in Full Bloom)” of JFIR on June 19, 2021.) p{text-align:justify}


June 07,2021

Time To Have a Strong Interest in Digital Society Policy

“We willingly accept the government’s supervision.” China’s giant IT companies, known as “platformers,” are submitting a series of “pledges” to the Chinese government. The background to this is that the Xi Jinping administration is stepping up pressure on the entire industry following the punishment of online shopping giant Alibaba Group(Asahi Shimbun, April 16, 2021). If this is the result of the economic democracy against monopoly to discourage the excessive management activities of platformers seeking extreme market dominance, then it is understandable. In the U.S., the oligopoly of the four companies known as GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon) is said to total $5 trillion. This figure is as large as Japan’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product). The dominance of these companies has reached a point where they control the activities and people of other companies, making the situation impossible to ignore. Consequently, since last summer, the U.S. Congress has been holding hearings to discuss the possibility of applying antitrust laws to the four companies, including GAFA. However, the truth of the above is not about such economic democracy. It is believed to be caused by an enormous rift that pre-existed between Jack Ma, the charismatic founder of China’s IT giant Alibaba, and the Xi Jinping administration. It is said that Ma, who is known for his outspokenness, severely criticized the monetary policy of the Xi Jinping administration in October last year, and ended up offending President Xi Jinping. In other words, the essence of the above article is not about economic democracy, but rather the political suppression or oppression against IT companies that could potentially become opponents of the ruling political power through economic oligopoly. This in itself is a challenge towards a bad history, but it also brings into view the possibility of a dark society at the end of social digitalization. In other words, it will be possible for those in power to control the masses by becoming friends with the oligopolistic IT companies. This is the path to the continuation of the existing collusion between oligopoly capital (i.e., large corporations) and politics. Now, the Suga administration is rushing ahead to promote a social digitalization in order to revitalize the “information society” in Japan. The question is, “Will a demon come out? Or will it turn out to be a snake?” Looking at the deliberations in the Diet that has just begun, which of the two images, that is, a monopolistic/ oligopolistic capitalist society or a dictatorial political society, will emerge as the result of the Suga administration’s efforts is yet to be seen. However, the Japanese people must continue to pay close attention to the issue. The future of the digital society has been told as a “story” in which people would be able to free themselves from the shackles of time and space by acquiring relevant information on their own responsibility, thereby liberating their minds and enabling a richer life. However, in reality, the IT utopian society is still in the distance far away from us. As we look at the Suga administration’s Digital Agency, which started out on dealing with a hanko (Japanese traditional style stamp) issue and is now aiming for a “national identification number,” we can only assume that the utopian concept never existed in the first place. The people of Japan will have to remain vigilant in checking their own positions to see what kind of path they will be led into. (This is the English translation of an article written by ITO Yo, Professor Emeritus at the University of Yamanashi, which originally appeared on the e-forum “Hyakka-Seiho (Hundred Flowers in Full Bloom)” of JFIR on May 27, 2021.) p{text-align:justify}


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The Japan Forum on International Relations(JFIR) is a private, non-profit, independent, and non-partisan organization, which was established for the purpose of encouraging its members and the public at large to study, discuss, exchange and propose ideas on foreign policies and international affairs, thereby enlightening the public in and out of Japan. In doing so, however, JFIR as an institution neither takes nor rejects any specific political

positions on these matters. Though JFIR issues from time to time specific policy recommendations on important matters of the day, the responsibility for the contents of the recommendations concerned lies solely with those who sign them. JFIR was founded on March 12, 1987 in Tokyo and was reincorporated on April 1, 2011 as a “public interest foundation” with the authorization granted by the Prime Minister of Japan in recognition of its achievements.