201801.03
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FocusOSA #11: Japan: Foreign Affairs

Comments on November APEC summit in Vietnam imply intensification of the dialogue on security issues in Asia and Pacific region. The theme of the summit is the problem of a growing nuclear threat from North Korea. At the summit Prime Minister of Japan, Abe Shinzō, participated in a series of unofficial meetings with the leaders of the United States and Australia regarding trade exchange and an aggressive attitude of Pyongyang regime. The leaders were in favour of exerting greater pressure on North Korea. This is another attempt of establishing a broader forum of strategic cooperation that would go beyond the Japanese-American alliance. In his first term Prime Minister Abe Shinzō tried to include India in the trilateral dialogue. The attempts of building similar mechanisms have been strongly opposed by Russia and China. 

So far there has been no reaction from the PRC. APEC summit demonstrated that relations between Tokyo and Beijing were slightly better. Despite the fact that the meeting between Abe and Xi Jinping lasted only 40 minutes, the political and economic dialogue at lower levels has improved in recent years. Prime Minister Abe invited Xi Jinping to pay a visit to Japan. If the meeting does take place, it will mean a great breakthrough in relations with China. Abe Shinzō also met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Both leaders declared they would cooperate on denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and observing the UN sanctions imposed on Pyongyang regime. Li Keqiang  will represent China at the trilateral summit in Tokyo in December where he will meet leaders of Japan and South Korea.The head of the Japanese government seeks Beijing’s support on the matter of a threat posed by North Korea. Irrespective of the attempts to strengthen relations, it is difficult to predict how the authorities in Beijing will react to increasingly strong signals of tightening the strategic alliance between Japan and the United States.

Russia’s reaction is far more decisive. At APEC summit President Vladimir Putin stated that the prospect of signing a peace treaty with Japan might be delayed due to Japan tightening its strategic cooperation with the United States and other partners, which could have an anti-Russian dimension. The Kremlin is far more active in the dialogue regarding North Korea. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, at the meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Kōno Tarō, expressed his concern over increasing the number of the US army soldiers stationed in Japan and South Korea and plans to extend the missile defence system on the pretext of a growing threat from Pyongyang. Lavrov criticised imposing further sanctions and organising military manoeuvres in the Japan Sea without any provocative acts by North Korea. In his opinion, similar actions  discourage Kim Jong Un’s regime from joining diplomatic talks. The debate on North Korea marginalised the main topic of the meeting i.e. talks on signing a peace treaty. If we treat the Russian government’s statements as an attempt to disrupt relations between authorities in Tokyo and Washington, increasingly better relations between Prime Minister Abe and Donald Trump’s administration and further ballistic testing of Pyongyang give this strategy little chance of success. The Russian administration comments may also be considered as another pretext for prolonging talks on signing the peace treaty. Moscow is determined to achieve maximum economic benefit for underdeveloped Siberia. Simultaneously, Russian diplomats avoid giving any specific information about  regulating the status of the Southern Kuril Islands.