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The Art of Compromise: Will Japan Risk US Ire by Building Up Ties With Russia?

© AFP 2021 / IVAN SEKRETAREV / POOLJapanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin - Sputnik International
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When opening an emergency session of the lower house of parliament earlier this week Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hoped that President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tokyo in December would help kick start talks over the territorial dispute between Russia and Japan over the disputed Kuril Islands.

In his keynote speech in parliament Shinzo Abe also underscored the importance of Japan’s close partnership with the US in a clear nod to Washington, which has repeatedly signaled its dissatisfaction about the current rapprochement between Tokyo and Moscow.

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In an interview with Sputnik Japanese-affairs expert Dmitry Streltsov spoke about the dilemma faced by Japan, which wants to build up ties with its neighbors, including Russia and China, while at the same time avoid antagonizing its key ally in the region – the US.

“The art of a political compromise is a traditional Japanese forte. Hard as it tries to stand up for its national interests, Tokyo is always careful not to go to extremes,” Streltsov said, adding that  in the long run Shinzo Abe would stay the course of maintaining a normal dialogue with Russia.

“There is no alternative to this and every Japanese leader knows that without friendly relations with Russia they will not be able to play the role of a regional and global leader they want for themselves. That’s why I think that in his talks with Putin Abe will have this very much in mind and even if the territorial dispute is not resolved any time soon, relations between our two countries will hardly suffer,” he noted.

Dmitry Streltsov added that relations between Russia and Japan were bound to improve because the US realizes that this is something America will only benefit from.

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“Faced with China’s growing military presence in the region and  other challenges, Washington sees this Russian-Japanese partnership as a stabilizing factor, so it will hardly be trying to undermine this process,” Streltsov continued, adding that even if the US wanted to hamper this fence-mending process, Shinzo Abe has made it perfectly clear that he wants to pursue an independent policy regardless of what Washington may think about it.

During their meeting in May, Shinzo Abe and Vladimir Putin agreed a “new approach” to the territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands, and the Japanese Premier was the only G7 leader to show up at the opening of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

“Even though Japan joined the anti-Russian sanctions under strong pressure from Washington, it hasn’t been too keen to enforce them. Shinzo Abe has already had over a dozen meetings with Putin and he hopes that closer economic ties with Russia, including Japanese investments in Russia’s resources-rich Siberia and the Far East, could eventually help resolve the long-running territorial dispute between our two countries,” Dmitry Streltsov said in conclusion.

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