The Japan Forum on International Relations


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.

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.)


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.)


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.)


April 07,2021

What Japan Should Do for the Tokyo Olympics: Now is the Time for Japan’s “Insight Diplomacy”

The hosting of the Olympics is now in doubt. Regardless of how the Olympics will be held, or if the IOC unfortunately decides not to hold the games, Japan’s efforts to host the games both at home and abroad will be highly appreciated, but how will Japan’s international insight be evaluated amid the corona pandemic? A year or so ago, Prime Minister Abe announced the postponement of the Olympics at a time when international pressure to cancel last summer’s Olympics seemed to be mounting. It was a last-minute decision, but it seems the world accepted Japan’s decision as a good one. At the time, I considered that there was no need to explicitly postpone the Olympics, nor should there be a one-year deadline, and that the world should make its own decision. I insisted through several media that Japan should simply say, “We will hold a peace festival with you after the Corona pandemic is over and when the world has settled down,” but my voice was not heard. That idea has not changed. The point of my proposal was to suggest “the possibility of substantial postponement,” although Japan did not have to state it herself. What is more important is to send a message to the world that we would cooperate in bringing about a state of peace in the world and that we would wait for that to happen before holding the Olympics. That is the true meaning of the Olympics. At the root of my remarks is an awareness of seeking Japanese diplomacy from a broader perspective. This expression may be unfamiliar to many people, but it refers to a diplomatic stance of being a “global player,” in other words, thinking about the countries of the world from a broader perspective, walking with them, and leading them. The world still has high expectations for Japan as a leader in Asia. Although China is gaining momentum to surpass the U.S. in terms of physical and economic size, Japan is the foremost Asian country that gives the world a sense of security psychologically and spiritually. Thus, isn’t it natural for Japan to express to the world its attitude toward foreign affairs from a broad perspective? Such thoughts on Japan’s foreign policy lie behind my opinion. Of course, as a matter of principle, there are probably few people who would disagree with this idea. On the other hand, there must be counterarguments as well. There are many factors that may hinder my principled argument. There is the pessimistic view that Japan does not have the power to lead the world. However, the real question for us is our will. It’s about the “proactive diplomacy.” Not the kind of “passive diplomacy” dictated by the international environment around us. The same is true of the debate over the Nuclear Weapons Convention, which came into force in January of this year. The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games should be headed by the Greek team. Isn’t the presence of Japan, the only country to have experienced atomic bombings, even more important in the international movement to abolish nuclear weapons? Then, what should Japan do now regarding the Olympics? There is a point to the idea that since we have come this far, we should implement the Olympics at all costs. If the Olympics can be held without any problems, Japan may be able to gain a reputation as an advanced country that excels in hygiene management and maintaining order. Rather, isn’t it possible for Japan to explicitly show her stance of waiting for world peace aside from wanting to hold the event for her own sake? Japan has worked hard up to this point, however, in consideration of the situation in the world, she can resolutely leave it to the IOC to decide whether to hold the Games once again. Wouldn’t that be better for Japan to raise her international reputation and convey the message as a leading country in the world? Personally, I don’t think we can shake off the impression that it is too late, but still, in the end, we would be able to offer a certain amount of insight. Even if the Olympics do not come to fruition this time, there will always be another opportunity for such a country. I call it “insight diplomacy,” and I believe that the true meaning of cultural diplomacy is basically to convey a message of values. If the Olympics were to be cancelled due to an external pressure, that would be the worst-case scenario. Now that the IOC has announced that it will not accept foreign visitors, this is the last chance. It’s not too late. (This is the English translation of an article written by WATANABE Hirotaka, Distinguished Research Fellow, JFIR / Professor, Teikyo University, which originally appeared on the e-forum “Hyakka-Seiho (Hundred Flowers in Full Bloom)” of JFIR on March 31 & April 1, 2021.) Reference Hirotaka WATANABE, “Now is the time for Japan to adopt a true ‘Insight Diplomacy’” GFJ Commentary, No. 90, April 28, 2020.


January 31,2021

Who Knows Whether China Supports The ‘Kim Regime’ To The End?

In general, China-North Korea (DPRK) relations is thought to be close and amicable because there is no other countries these have supported North Korea like China. Both regimes, however, hate each other. Kim Il-sung spent his childhood at Chinese school and spoke fluent Chinese, and had been engaged in guerrilla activities in China. He knew the first generation of Chinese leadership, and it seems that he kept the diplomatic relation but not close. Meanwhile, his son, Kim Jong-il was born after Kim Il-sung had escaped to Russia, which he did have neither familiarity nor China. This is same as for Kim Il-sung’s grandson, Kim Jong-un. This is one of the motives why Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un have been trying to talk to the United States in an attempt to improve its international relations. The good example of not-so friendly China-DPRK relations was seen in the first ever inter-Korea Summit Conference between Kim Dae-jung of South Korea (ROK) and Kim Jong-il of DPRK held in June 2000. Kim Jong-il’s intention was to improve DPRK-U.S. relations by leveraging ROK’s relations with the U.S. since ROK was already under DPRK influence. Three months later, Kim Jong-il sent his trusted subordinate, Jo Myong-rok, Director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), as an envoy to the U.S. He received extraordinary treatments from the U.S. of meeting President Clinton and State Secretary Madeleine Albright, which eventually led to Ms. Albright’s official visit to DPRK in the following month. While Ms. Albright’s three-day stay, Kim Jong-il extended his special hospitality by escorting her every day. Chinese Minister of National Defense, Chi Haotian was actually in Pyongyang earlier than Secretary Albright, though Kim Jong-il only met him on the day she left. Although Kim Jong-il’s confidence deepened through the event, further progress was not achieved, since Bush won the presidential election in November of the same year. This apparently made China lose its face. It was beyond China’s understanding that DPRK welcomed U.S. Secretary of State, the common enemy whom they fought together a half century ago, while having such alliance delegation waited. The end of Democratic administration in the U.S. which Kim miscalculated as he thought it was worth a try, even if it would upset China, to develop its relations with the U.S. and be more independence from China. As a result, North Korea has been more isolated from international community. Then, the U.S. Republican administration’s policy towards DPRK has got much stricter particularly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In this context, the deadlock of Kim Jong-il’s foreign policy became obviously President Bush’s word of “axis of evils”. Since Pyongyang felt the pressure of being bombarded any time by the U.S. military, Kim Jong-il shifted to appease Japan including the major compromise on the abduction issue. There were many other complex factors which Kim Jong-il’s fear of the U.S. would make him to take further to admit the abduction issue. The lesson for Japan was, as Dr. Kim Dong-Cheol notes in “The Message for the Japanese Government,” that requires “sensitivity to deal with North Korea.” That is to say, a strong message is more effective rather than to keep calmness and talks which will not be affected to North Korea. Meanwhile, China has deepened its distrust against DPRK’s foreign policy since Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un have been trying to proactively approaching the U.S. and kept distance with China. Although KPA is said to have close ties with China, People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) influence has been seen in the recent midnight military parade of DPRK which may imply something to consider the background. If there is a perception gap between the Kim family, there may be strong orientation toward the U.S., and the KPA, which has a strong affinity for the PLA, there is a big question whether China can be said to support the “Kim Jong-un regime” to the end or not. China-DPRK relations has long been considered static, but in the current international situation, that may be needed more flexible interpretation to be interpreted more flexibly. (This is the English translation of an article written by ARAKI Kazuhiro, Professor, the Institute of World Studies, Takushoku University, which originally appeared on the e-forum “Hyakka-Seiho (Hundred Flowers in Full Bloom)” of JFIR on November 25, 2020.)

ARAKI Kazuhiro

November 30,2020

Originality, Not Succession —Policy Recommendation for PM Suga’s Diplomacy on Russia

In this article, the author would like to explore new Prime Minister Suga’s diplomacy on Russia, who said to be basically succeeding the predecessor PM Abe’s policy. The author entirely values PM Abe’s diplomatic achievements highly, including how passionate he was on the policy towards Russia, compared to any other predecessors, and expresses his respect for that. However, the Northern Territories issue, of which PM Abe aimed to conclude by signing the peace treaty with Russia based on the friendship with President Putin during both leaders’ term, was not even got closer to the goal but rather, in the author’s perspective, fell back further. That is to say, Pres. Putin got much tougher on the issue. PM Abe voiced how regretful his administration was not able to solve the issue, but did not say how it happened. Without examining how it was not, succession of Abe diplomacy would only to be led to repeat the failure. In this article, therefore, the author will examine the issues caused in PM Abe’s diplomacy on Russia, and indicate lessons for the successor, PM Suga. The following is the summary of what did not go well in PM Abe’s diplomacy on Russia: (1) The Abe administration did not see Russian counterpart’s very cynical, realist way of thinking or mentality. They believed the fundamental good of humanity and expected Russia’s goodwill reaction when Japan shows goodwill, which was naïve. (2) Pres. Putin sees the outer Russia is enemies, and does not see Japan as an independent state due to its dependence on the United States. (3) Pres. Putin understands the international laws or treaties are to be utilized as much as possible when necessary, including the loopholes, as political wisdom. At the United Nations, for example, Russia did not care the General Assembly’s resolution on opposing Crimea annexation at all, but makes use of its veto at the Security Council. At the Northern Territories negotiation, too, Russia always brings up the UN Enemy State Clause, the Article 107 of the UN Charter, to emphasize that the loser of the World War II cannot refuse the decision of the winner, which was decided and supposed to be removed from the Charter at the General Assembly in 1995. For PM Suga to not repeat the abovementioned diplomatic failures, the author would like to clarify there were no true trust or recognition shared between PM Abe and Pres. Putin, with specific cases of Japan having single-handedly rushed on its wishful thinking as listed below, so those parts will not be succeeded. On September 4, 2016, PM Abe made a speech at the Eastern Economic Forum held in Vladivostok, and passionately called on to President Putin with his first name to be friendly, “We stand here today shouldering our respective viewpoints on history … Putting an end to the unnatural state of affairs that has continued these 70 years, shall we not together carve out a new era for Japan and Russia going forward? Vladimir, in order to carve out towards the future bilateral relations overflowing with unlimited potential, I am resolved to putting forth all my strength to advance the relationship between Japan and Russia, together with you.” President Putin talked about this with insulting tone in his press conference in Hangzhou where he was visiting on the following day, though this was not reported in Japanese media as far as the author knows, probably due to the occasion was held only for the Russian media. “He is an outstanding and remarkable speaker. What he was great about in the speech at the Vladivostok summit meeting, however, was not the territorial issue part, but what he said about the 8 cooperation proposals (in economy and other areas that PM Abe proposed in Sochi meeting in May, 2016) and their prospects. Pres. Putin gave a cold shoulder about the territorial issue and the signing of peace treaty that PM Abe passionately talked about, while only bought the part of economic cooperation which would be practically beneficial to Russia —Pres. Putin was somewhat honest. On November 14, 2018, the Summit meeting between PM Abe and Pres. Putin was held in Singapore. Afterwards, PM Abe said to the media that he is “willing to solve the territorial issue based on the trust being built, to sign the peace treaty. Pres. Putin and I are in a complete sync of strong willingness to conclude the issue by our own hands, of which left for over 70 years since the end of WWII to be not inherited to the future generations.” PM Abe often has stated that he and Pres. Putin were in a complete sync of their strong willingness to conclude the territorial issue and sign the peace treaty. About a year in prior, however, Pres. Putin had said another comment that PM Abe loses his face, at the press conference in Da Nang, Vietnam on Nov. 11, 2017, that “Whoever the leader of Russia or Japan at the time of signing the peace treaty between the two countries, would not be important.” Frankly, what he meant would be that he was not willing to sign the peace treaty while he is in power. This comment was not reported in Japanese media either. What went through then was exactly what Pres. Putin had said. PM Abe was spreading the fantasy with his Russia approach, which of course was very convenient for Pres. Putin. The Russian leadership is, therefore, welcoming PM Suga’s attitude that he is basically succeeding PM Abe’s diplomacy on Russia. As soon as Mr. Suga was elected as the new prime minister, Pres. Putin stated that he “expects PM Suga consults with Mr. Abe on his diplomacy on Russia, just like Mr. Abe consulted with (designated as an envoy to Moscow) former PM Mori,” according to a report on Sept. 14. While succeeding the basic policies of Abe diplomacy, PM Suga also said he is taking its own stance. A Russian Japan expert, V. Kistanov, is paying close attention to what PM Suga said about “willing to build a solid foothold of own diplomatic stance.” (“Nezavisimaya Gazeta,” Sept. 21). After the Summit meeting with Pres. Putin in Singapore, PM Abe said “It was decided to accelerate the negotiation of peace treaty based on the Joint Declaration of 1956,” which means it is willing to make a deal with 2 smaller islands solution. On the contrary, on the following day of the Summit meeting, Mr. Suga clearly stated at the press conference that “It has been Japan’s consistent attitude to solve the attribution of the four islands of Northern Territories, to sign the peace treaty. There has been no change made on that” as then-Chief Cabinet Secretary. On Sept. 14, too, Mr. Suga had stated it was not just the two islands stated on the Joint Declaration of ’56, but to “clarify the attribution of the four islands to sign the peace treaty.” Dr. Kistanov says what Mr. Suga said are noteworthy in “giving a new nuance to Mr. Abe’s stance that avoided to include all four islands.” “Conclusion of a peace treaty through the solution of [the] issue [of where Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai Islands belong]” is the exact sentence of the Tokyo Declaration on Japan-Russia Relations agreed in 1993, which Pres. Putin had recognized in 2001 and 2003. The expression though does not clarify where the islands would belong to, and it is different from how some hardliners interpret it as ‘returning of four islands at once’ solution. The agreement made in Singapore summit states to ‘accelerate the negotiation’ in Japanese version, but in Russian one it is to ‘activate the negotiation’ which is nuanced no hurry. In sum, the following is the author’s recommendations for PM Suga: (1) Grasp the Russian leadership’s way of thinking and mentality accurately. (2) Do build his original diplomatic stance on Russia, even if it would be harder than succeeding PM Abe’s policy without a criticism. (3) Do not rush to earn achievements, be patient when odds seem to be against, and deal with the issue as it would be in the decades to come. (This is the English translation of an article written by HAKAMADA Shigeki, Trustee, JFIR / Professor Emeritus, Aoyama Gakuin University and University of Niigata Prefecture, which originally appeared on the e-forum “Hyakka-Seiho (Hundred Flowers in Full Bloom)” of JFIR on October 20, 2020.)


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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

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