News / Asia

Japan's Embrace of Russia Under Threat with Ukraine Crisis

Russian soldiers fire warning shots at the Belbek air base, outside Sevastopol, Ukraine, March 4, 2014.
Russian soldiers fire warning shots at the Belbek air base, outside Sevastopol, Ukraine, March 4, 2014.
Russia's incursion into Ukraine is setting off alarm bells in Tokyo, where officials worry that any push by Japan's Western allies to impose economic penalties will undermine its drive to improve relations with Moscow.
While U.S. President Barack Obama and other G7 leaders of advanced economies talk of sanctions or other punitive responses, Japanese officials say ties with Moscow remain on track.
There has been no change in the direction of economic and resource diplomacy between Japan and Russia, Trade Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on Tuesday.
In reality, “they are in a state of shock”, one diplomatic source close to the situation said, referring to Japanese officials. “It is a big pain in the back for the Japanese government.”
Closer ties are being driven by mutual energy interests, as Russia plans to at least double oil and gas flows to Asia in the next 20 years and Japan is forced to import huge volumes of fossil fuel to replace lost energy from its nuclear power industry, shut down after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
“If Western countries come together and agree to take action such as imposing economic sanctions, we may be affected,” said a senior executive at a Japanese company involved in the energy sector in Russia.
“We don't know what will happen at the moment, but I am afraid the energy sector usually gets a lot of attention.”
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made better ties with Moscow a priority since returning to power 15 months ago and has met Russian President Vladimir Putin five times, despite a territorial dispute dating from World War II.
By contrast, Abe has not met either of the leaders of neighboring South Korea or China. Tokyo is embroiled in disputes over uninhabited islands and wartime history with both countries.
Russian forces seized Crimea, an isolated Black Sea peninsula with an ethnic Russian majority, without firing a shot following the ousting of the pro-Moscow Viktor Yanukovich as Ukrainian president last month.
All eyes are now on whether Russia makes a military move in predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow demonstrators have marched and raised Russian flags over public buildings in several cities in the last three days.
Diplomatic push
Following his return to power in December 2012, Abe has travelled extensively, pushing for expanded trade ties and investment for Japan as he attempts to jolt the country's economy out of more than a decade of stagnant growth.
Russian ties have been a major focus of that diplomatic effort and Abe's visit to Moscow in April last year was the first by a Japanese prime minister in a decade. He has met Putin more than any other leader, Japan's foreign ministry confirmed.
Abe attended the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics last month, while Obama, French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron stayed away. Whilst there, he announced a visit to Japan by Putin in the autumn.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida still plans to visit Russia this spring, the government said on Monday.
Official comments by Japanese government officials have stressed the need to respect territorial integrity, softer language than Tokyo signed up to in a G7 statement on the Crimean situation on Monday. G7 leaders pulled out of talks on a G8 summit in Sochi, according to the statement.
“As a G7 member, we agreed on the statement. Japan is hoping that the situation will improve following the statement,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Tuesday, when asked about differences in the statement and Kushida's comments on the crisis.
Japan has a lot at stake. An agreement on the islands east of Hokkaido seized by Russia with the eviction of 17,000 Japanese would involve a peace treaty, after the two sides failed to formally close the war in 1945, and pave the way for closer energy ties.
Eastern transformation
A dramatic transformation is under way in Russia's energy sector, with oil flows being redirected to Asia via the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline and Putin pushing for more gas sales to reduce Moscow's reliance on Europe.
Japan now consumes a third of global liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments, and purchased 10 percent of its supplies from Russia's east, which lies on Japan's doorstep.
Oil imports from Russia rose almost 45 percent in 2013 and accounted for about 7 percent of supplies to the world's fourth-biggest crude importer.
With all the country's nuclear reactors shut down and no timetable for restarts, Tokyo is desperate to diversify and slash costs of energy imports and Japanese companies are involved in projects to export more gas in liquid form.
“A worsening relationship between the US and EU with Russia may damage Japan's ongoing improved dialogue with its closest neighbor if economic, trade, or banking sanctions follow,” said Tom O'Sullivan, founder of Independent energy consultancy Mathyos Japan.
“This could impact Japan's gas and oil imports from Russia as well as investments in upstream energy assets at a time when Japan's energy security is still threatened due to the continued closure of all of its nuclear power plants.”

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
March 04, 2014 8:11 PM
Nice report. This column well explains the stance of Japan to Russia which had to reluctantly sign up to G7 statement this time.
A Japanese local newspaper this morning said Russia announced it would not help Crimea separate from Ukraine. Eventhough, would western countries impose economical sanction on Russia?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs