Yes, you read that correctly: Japan and Russia never signed any formal peace treaty ending World War Two between the two nations. One would think that it's high time for them to do so, especially given the recent Russo-Japanese agreement to allow Russia access to Japan Credit Bureau's financial clearing in the western Pacific and East Asia. But no, according to Washington D.C., whose business it is none of, now is not the time:
What's interesting here is not only that Washington had to chime in at all - citing the Ukraine and Syria - as if the former is any concern of Japan's, and as if the latter situation of Washington-induced chaos in the oil-rich Middle East could be satisfactory to the Japanese government and oligarchy, dependent as that nation is on vast imports of energy. One need only imagine Japanese versions of The Worricker Trilogy - perhaps with the occasional "banzai!" thrown in for good measure - to get the idea. Japan will be polite, of course, and publicly choose its words very carefully about its Washington ally. Privately, they can't be too happy. As readers here know, the Japanese rearmament program of Mr. Abe's Government may, in the short term, be about helping out Washington in its "Pacific pivot"; but in the long term I rather suspect, and have consistently maintained, that it's as much about Japanese anxieties over Washington's abilities and commitments to protect that nation. After all, the Japanese can watch tv and read the reports from Syria and the rest of the Middle East as well as anyone else, and the forceful Russian interventions there, versus years of American diplomatic and military fumbling, will pose a stark and evident contrast for Japanese policy-makers and strategic planners. It's a good time - being "country simple" about it once again - to "make nice with Russia."
As the article avers, the sticking point will be the Kurile islands:
The southern Kuril Islands remain the main obstacle to signing the peace treaty, as Japan doesn’t agree with the decision taken by Soviet, US and UK leaders to hand all of the Kuril Islands over to the USSR after World War II.
While Russia has made it clear that it will not negotiate over the Kuriles, and while Japan has equally quietly and stubbornly insisted that at some point the problem must be addressed, the issue will probably not impede either Japanese or Russian negotiation efforts. But the issue, as indicated, will come up. So how might Russia and Japan resolve it, to their mutual benefit? Here comes my high octane speculation of the day. As I have noted in previous blogs, while Russia and China have entered into large scale bilateral agreements regarding the development of energy and infrastructure in the vast - and vastly underpopulated - region of Siberia, Russia's geopolitical problem with the region, a problem persisting since the nineteenth century vis-a-vis Japan and China, is how to prevent its more populous, and now more economically powerful neighbor to the south, from dominating the region to such an extent that it becomes a virtual province, not of Russia, but of CHina.
Enter Japan, and the Kurile islands. It is possible, just remotely possible, that in return for heavy Japanese assistance in the development of the region, that a counterbalance to China could be achieved, and that a workable agreement of the gradual transfer of the Kuriles, or a part of them, back to Japanese jurisdiction over time could be negotiated. One might even envision a dual-jurisdiction status for the territories could be in the cards. In any case, expect the negotiations of Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kishida to be intense, and creative. Both nations have too much to gain from mutual cooperation, and too much to lose if they do not.
The bottom line? Expect some surprises from both Tokyo and Moscow.
See you on the flip side...
(My thanks to all of you who brought this development to our attention.)