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.
Reuters
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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More