Japan has imposed more sanctions against Russia, though they are a lot milder than the ones introduced by the US. The new sanctions adopted by the cabinet of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe froze the assets of 40 individuals and two entities, as well as restricted import of products made in Crimea. According to Japanese government spokesman Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the measures are in line with those taken by other industrialized nations, particularly the EU members. Japan has to navigate a very delicate balancing - on the one hand, it wants to align itself with the United States and Europe in having a firm stance against Russia, but on the other hand, whatever sanctions, Japan has interest in having good ties with Russia, Shihoko Goto, Northeast Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson Center's Asia Program, says in an exclusive interview to radio VR.
Firstly, she cites a territorial dispute in the northern territories. She adds Japan is interested in having strong ties with Russia to meet its energy needs. “So it cannot afford to have a strong position against Russia,” Ms Goto concludes.
She goes on to say Prime Minister Abe has very good personal ties with President Putin, recollecting a whole of five meetings they’ve so far had since December 2012, when Abe took office. This is one of a kind relationship, the expert believes. “Comparing that with Japan having never had a bilateral meeting either with Chinese premier, or South Korean head of state, that alone speaks volumes about how engaged Japan is on a personal level with Russia.”
There are, however, factors that might easily crush the interstate ties, which were until recently on the rise, Ms Goto states. This is in particular “anything” that might be in the way of the resolution of the Far Eastern land dispute:
“Anything that might prevent the resolution of the territorial dispute, a legacy of World War Two, can be a major blow to Russia-Japan relations.”
Another crucial issue is Russia’s energy resources – the field Japan is also aiming to establish reliable ties with Russia in. Any move that would jeopardize Japan being able to cooperate with Russia in terms of Russia’s Far East energy resources would be “a significant blow”, the expert says, adding there’s a good deal of competitiveness in the area.
“China has had a strong agreement securing energy ties with Russia earlier this year. So, there’s a great rivalry between East Asian countries to be able to secure that energy source.”
The above-mentioned factors clearly point to the fact that Japan-imposed sanctions are sure to be milder as compared to the penalties initiated by the West.
On the other hand, Japan is not set to be at odds with the United States, which is currently making steps to engage more with Asia Pacific region, both militarily and economically - the policy that was earlier dubbed US’ “Asia pivot”.
Japan is seen as a key ally that attempts to increase its military capabilities, though is still unable to “engage militarily” except for self-defense purposes, adds Ms Goto. What it wants to do is to “play offense”, so Japan needs the US, concludes the expert citing a long-standing territorial dispute with China Japan needs US’ assistance with.