News / Asia

    Why is Japan's Abe Seeking Better Ties with Russia's Putin?

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands during their meeting in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi, Russia, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands during their meeting in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi, Russia, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014.
    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying hard to improve relations with Russia, a neighbor with whom Tokyo has yet to sign a peace treaty after the end of World War II.

    Abe has a variety of motivations for reaching out to Russia, which has been receptive to closer ties with Japan in some areas, but not others.

    Since taking office in December 2012 Abe has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin five times. Their latest encounter was a significant gesture by the Japanese leader.

    Abe's personal touch

    Abe added prestige to Russia's opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics by accepting Putin's invitation to attend last Friday's event in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Western leaders stayed away, in an apparent protest at Putin's human rights record.

    The Japanese prime minister earned a lunch meeting with Putin on Saturday and a commitment by the Russian president to make a rare visit to Japan in the second half of this year.

    Prime Minister Abe plans to return to Sochi for a sixth meeting with Putin in June, on the sidelines of a Group of Eight nations summit.
     
    Asia Society analyst Ayako Doi says one factor driving Abe closer to Russia is a worsening of Japan's relations with its two other regional neighbors: China and South Korea.

    Both nations have toughened their positions on maritime territorial disputes with Japan in recent years.

    Beijing and Seoul also have long resented what they see as Tokyo's failure to atone for wartime aggression in the first half of the 20th century.

    Seeking Russian friendship

    "There is no improvement in sight for those relationships, so Prime Minister Abe is looking to Russia as a potential bright spot in his foreign policy initiatives," Doi told VOA.

    Speaking from Washington, she said Japan also wants to stop Putin from becoming an even closer ally of Chinese President Xi Jinping and potentially supporting China's claims to Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea.

    Xi also attended the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony and won a meeting with his Russian host, although without the luncheon granted to Abe.

    "It almost is like Mr. Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping are both trying to get Mr. Putin in their camp," Doi said. "It is a rivalry for the love of Russia, you might say."

    Another motivation behind Japan's Russian outreach is its hope to resolve a decades-old territorial dispute that has held up the signing of a Japan-Russia peace treaty.

    Pushing for deal

    Japan has long sought to reclaim four islands off the northern coast of Hokkaido from Russia, whose then-Soviet forces captured them in 1945, days before then end of World War II

    James Schoff, an Asia analyst at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says Abe has two main reasons to be hopeful for a resolution of that dispute.

    "The fact that Japan and Russia have a dispute about these territories is acknowledged by both sides, and there is a history of negotiation between them, ever since the end of the war," Schoff said.

    He said those factors make the issue more manageable for Japan than its maritime disputes with China and South Korea.

    "In those cases, the parties still are in a situation where neither side will acknowledge that a dispute even exists," Schoff said.

    "The Koreans say Dokdo island in the Sea of Japan / East Sea is theirs and they are on it, and any claims to it by Japan are completely false and not worth entertaining. And the opposite goes for the East China Sea's Senkaku islands that the Japanese say are theirs and under their administration, while China says to Japan, you have got to acknowledge that there is a dispute over the islands [known in Chinese as Diaoyu]."

    An energy win-win

    Schoff said Japan's shutdown of its nuclear power plants after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster also has left it in greater need of fossil fuel imports, particularly natural gas from Russia.

    Moscow has a key incentive to boost its economic ties with Japan in areas such as energy.

    President Putin has made it a national priority to develop oil, gas and other resources in Russia's Far East and Siberia - economically-neglected areas where Japanese investment would be welcome.

    In a gesture to Japan, Russia held a round of peace treaty negotiations at the level of deputy foreign minister in Tokyo on January 31.

    But, there was no breakthrough. Moscow reiterated its long-held stance on the four disputed islands that it calls the Southern Kurils, saying they became Russian as a result of World War Two.

    Japan considers the islands to be its Northern Territories. No date for further talks has been set.

    President Putin also made no explicit mention of the issue in his public remarks with Abe in Sochi.

    Russia's cautious approach

    Doi said the Russian leader currently has little reason to make territorial concessions.

    "For Russia, making the Japanese hopeful about an eventual signing of a treaty is a very good thing, because it can be dangled as a prize to entice Japanese investment and other types of cooperation," she said.

    Schoff said Russia still has a motive to seek a better political alliance with Japan.

    "There is some worry in Moscow about China’s rising military budgets and military expansionist maneuvers in the maritime sphere. I think Russia likes to have friends in different places and would not mind having a stronger relationship with Japan as a counterweight in that regard," he said.

    But, Doi said, Moscow is unlikely to take Tokyo's side in the dispute with Beijing about the East China Sea.

    "Russia can see the danger in getting involved in that issue. Mr. Putin also needs Chinese investment and cooperation in all kinds of areas," she said.

    Michael Lipin

    Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

    You May Like

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    IS Use of Social Media to Recruit, Radicalize Still a Top Threat to US

    Despite military gains against IS in Iraq and Syria, their internet propaganda still commands an audience; US officials see 'the most complex challenge that the federal government and industry face'

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora