Japan and Russia have agreed to expand ties and are trying to work around if not resolve their dispute over the ownership of territories the Soviet Union seized from Japan at the end of World War Two. Russia seems to be hinting that further progress on the islands may be possible after Russian presidential elections later this year.The Japan Times reports on a meeting between the Japanese and Russian foreign ministers that could open a new era in relations between two countries who have worries in common about China’s growing clout in the Far East.Japan-Russia relations have remained in the deep freeze for a long time. The territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands (small islands that stretch between Japan’s Hokkaido and Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula) reflects in part Japan’s bitterness over Stalin’s 1945 stab in the back. Japan honored its non-aggression pact with the Soviets in 1941 when Hitler was at the gates of Moscow and a Japanese attack in the east could have been fatal. The troops that many believe saved the USSR were transferred from the Far East. In 1945 Stalin showed his gratitude by sending the Red Army into Japanese occupied Manchuria and Korea even as the US dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,Beyond historical grudges, the islands have strategic, fishing and perhaps economic importance as well. Undersea oil seems to be turning up in a lot of places these days.Japanese-Russian economic ties remain well below their potential. An estimated 5 million people travel between Japan and South Korea and Japan and China each year, says the Japan Times. Travel between Russia and Japan: less than 150,000 per year.Estrangement between Russia and Japan has been something China could count on since 1945. The thaw in relations between energy rich Russia and technology rich Japan is no doubt ringing some alarm bells in Beijing where, lately, almost all of the geopolitical news has been bad. Chinese fears of hostile encirclement will be reaching fever pitch as the US, India and Japan deepen relations with Myanmar, Japan and Russia make nice, and the US moves to increase its presence in the Philippines and Singapore — on top of its earlier announced plans to station marines in Australia.This Year of the Dragon is off to an interesting start.
Japan, Russia Build Ties As Asian Balance Shifts