It is known that former Prime Minister of Japan Yoshihiko Noda who has recently retired from the political scene intended to compensate all diplomatic failures on almost all fronts by a breakthrough in relations with Russia. I this case he placed stake on the fact that President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said that he would like to put an end to this dispute. In this connection he used the term accepted in judo “hikivake” (tie), emphasizing the importance of a solution that would satisfy both sides. But now Mr. Noda’s plans towards Russia filed as a history.
According to some media reports, the new leader of the Liberal Democratic Party Shinzo Abe has not been particularly interested in Russia so far. At least during the current election campaign, he did not say a word about Russia (which may be a good thing).
However, according to Vasily Golovnin, Tokyo Bureau Chief, ITAR-TASS News Agency, Abe has a reputation as a hawk and a nationalist, and considers his main task of diplomacy to restore confidence in the alliance relations with the U.S. However, from all appearances, he does not intend to postpone the settlement of the territorial issue with Russia. Immediately after winning the election, he said, “I had several meetings with Putin when I was prime minister in 2006-2007. Now, when I take this position for the second time, we will improve relations between the two countries. Moreover, I would like to resolve the territorial issue and sign a peace agreement,” said Shinzo Abe.
So far, it is unknown from what positions the new Prime Minister of Japan intends to negotiate. After all, as claimed by the famous orientalist D.Druzhinin, over time from 1945, “Tokyo’s view on the disputed territory has changed repeatedly.” As is known, a secret instruction by the Japanese Foreign Ministry in negotiations in 1955 provided for a three-stage extension of territorial claims: “firstly to demand the transfer of southern Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands to Japan for “historical reasons”. And finally, insist at least on the transfer of the islands of Habomai and Shikotan to Japan.”
But when the Soviet side eventually agreed to this subject to signing a peace treaty, the Japanese suddenly raised the bar again and demanded the Southern Kuril Islands in full (with the largest island of Kunashir). This was all over with. And nothing terrible happened.
According to V.Golovnin, actually real negotiations with Russia on the Southern Kuril Islands have not been conducted since the last century, while economic ties are naturally growing. Japanese investment in Russia in 2011, compared with 2010 increased nearly 38%.
This means that Russia is interesting for Japan as a growing market for cars, engineering products. The Japanese intend to invest large in energy - for example, in the construction near Vladivostok of a huge natural gas liquefaction plant which gas they will buy in themselves. The first plant of its kind in Sakhalin was also built with Japanese participation. The bilateral trade volume is expected to exceed $30 billion this year. It is not bad, but more than ten times less than turnover between Japan and China.
Account must be taken that besides Russia, Japan has disagreements on territorial issues with a number of APAC countries, particularly China, with which the new Japanese Prime Minister promises to normalize the dialogue, but intends to do so from the position of strength and by creating an anti-Chinese front.
Therefore, it can be assumed that Shinzo Abe will not make any sudden movements towards Russia – he is busy with other things. There remains a major challenge of reviving the economy and being reconciled with China at least nominally.