Month: April 2014

Editorial – Japan imposes more sanctions on Russia

Japan has proactively joined further “broader, coordinated sanctions” sanctions against Russia that were announced during the last G7 meeting. There is no binding agreement that all G7 countries are to impose the same level of sanctions – each country will decide for itself and impose the sanctions it considers necessary coordinating its action with the other G7 members.

As was announced today by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Japan will refuse issuing visas for 23 Russian government officials. Speaking about the new sanctions Kishida said: “We demand from Russia self-restraint and responsible behavior so that the situation in Ukraine could be resolved peacefully.”

Before that Japan stopped working with Russia on simplifying visa issuing procedures.

Still, these new sanctions from Japan are minuscule and look more like a formality to keep in line with the G7 decisions. For once there is nothing about freezing assets even for these 23 individuals. It is very unlikely that Russian corrupted officials or tycoons have any assets in Japan, but a mere announcement of freezing the assets would make these new sanctions look more like a real thing. Then, there are no sanctions against the Russian companies that the US introduced just yesterday.

It might be that Japan is holding off any more or less serious sanctions pending further talks with the US.

PM Shinzo Abe is heading to Europe today and is planned to visit Germany, UK, Portugal, Spain, France and Belgium. It is expected that one of the goals of the visit would be to confirm the European countries’ seriousness about imposing more real sanctions against Russia.

by naokawa


Editorial – America is to return to the Philippines

President Obama during his visit to Philippines announced that US at the request of the Philippine government will be able to use all Philippines military bases for the period of ten years. Extension of the period is possible. America now returns to Philippines after 22 years.

This move is clearly aimed at restraining China’s ambitions in the region, though Obama mentioned that China is an important economic partner of the US and America does not take any side in the other countries’ territorial disputes.

Official reaction of China was interesting in this case. They strongly protested when Obama reaffirmed that the Japanese Seknaku Islands fall within the Japan-US Security Treaty, and now China’s reaction to the US military bases at Philippines was very calm.

So what does it mean for Japan? It is clearly a good signal of America getting serious about restraining China’s ambitions in the region. At the same time international politics specialist Genki Fujii states: “The Pentagon and the sensible part of the US Congress do acknowledge the new cold war period between the US and China and the threat coming from China. But with Obama at the top there is uncertainty whether the US will win this new cold war. Then the budget of the US military was cut. America cannot be counted upon as it was possible during the old cold war. Japan and the ASEAN countries should hold their ground and be strong. All hopes lie with the next American leader”.

by naokawa and source

Japan Restoration Party is set to merge with Unity Party

Japan Restoration Party on Apr 26 during executive committee meeting held via teleconferencing between Tokyo and Osaka agreed to merge before the summer this year and create a new political party. They also call for Democratic Party of Japan and Your Party to join the negotiations. However, a co-president of JRP – Shintaro Ishihara does not favor the alliance with UP.

It is the first time JRP set such a clear period to create a new party on the base of JRP and UP. Another co-president of JRP, Toru Hashimoto said that the parties (JRP and UP) need to get together this summer at the latest. During the meeting Ishihara protested that JRP’s political views are more close to YP than to UP. However, the executive committee still decided on the merge.

If the merge is successfully completed the newly created party will hold 62 seats in the Lower House (JRP 53 seats and UP 9 seats). This will make it the second largest party overcoming DPJ (55 seats).

JRP and UP have different views on the right to exercise collective self-defense. JRP as a party has already decided that they would support “the limited application”, while UP is not that positive on the issue. Hashimoto showed consideration for UP and asserted that the right to exercise collective self-defense will not be mentioned in the policy agreement to be concluded between JRP and UP.

On the issue of revision of the constitution JRP proclaims “creation of constitution suitable for the independent country”, while UP stops at “revision of the constitution with governing system in the center”. It was decided to include both statements for negotiations on policy adjustments between the two parties.

It is said that Hashimoto’s idea to merge with UP even at the cost of changing JRP basic policies stems from his own problems as Osaka mayor. The Big Osaka project promoted by Hashimoto is not in the best condition. If he is to lead the process of realignment of the opposition political parties it would help him and the party in Osaka.

Still, Ishihara talking to journalists disagreed: “It makes no sense to get together with a party that has support ratings of less than 1%. It is not all about numbers.”

Hinting at Ishihara’s group of the former Sunrise Party ( Kenji Eda of UP said: “UP is incompatible with nationalistic and ultra-nationalistic parties”. One the parliament members from the former Sunrise Party complained: “Hashimoto is being too considerate of Eda. Those who want to merge with UP are free to leave JRP and join UP instead”.


Editorial – Is Russia really ready to return the occupied Northern Territories?

I happen to read one interesting article in the Foreign Policy online. It is called “When One Door Closes…“. What it says basically is that when Russia is under the US sanctions it is good timing for both Japan and Russia to negotiate on the Northern Territories. Author suggests that Russia might as well give back the Northern Territories to Japan in return for Japan not supporting the sanctions against it.

Why the return of the Northern Territories will not happen?

Russia’s position

Author says that it will be in Russia’s interests to partner with Japan, because the only other “partner” Russia now has is China. It is true that China might be dangerous for Russia in the mid-term, and there is even some understanding about this in the Russian so-called ‘elite’. But the striking difference between Chinese and Russian rulers is that China thinks thirty, fifty even hundred years ahead, while the Russian so-called ‘elite’ thinks only a couple of years in the future. So the alarming voices of those who rightfully think China is there to hug Russia to death is unlikely to be heard after Putin’s ‘triumphant’ annexation of Crimea.

One should think about the ‘Russian way of thinking’. Putin is on the high. People’s support for him even among the liberals who opposed him so far has skyrocketed. This will not last long, but at the moment the situation is like this. Putin is enjoying it. Author states that in 2012 Putin mentioned a possibility of “hikiwake”, a ‘draw’ meaning that the four islands comprising the Northern Territories are to be split 50/50 – two northern islands would remain with Russia and two southern would go to Japan, and that Putin may spend his “ample patriotic capital” to strike a deal on the Northern Territories with Japan. In my view, this will never happen. For Putin his own popularity, the support of the plebs in untouchable. He will never spend it on anything other than building up even more support for himself. This is a crucial thing to understand about today’s Russia.

In 2005 Russia did forfeit some of its territory on the Amur river, which is a natural border between China and Russia on the Far East. 337 have gone over to China. This was not openly announced in the state news on the Russian TV, so most people are still unaware of the fact. Thus Putin’s popularity did not suffer. On the other hand, if the Northern Territories were to be given back to Japan, it would be a huge news that cannot be hidden even in autocratic Russia, and Putin will have to explain his actions to his supporters.

Another important thing is that from Russian point of view China’s way of thinking is close to that of Russia. Both countries live not by the law, but one’s notions of the law. Corrupted officials is another thing in common between the two countries. That is why it is easy for China and Russia to find a common language. Lack of a strategic long-term planning in Russia means that China would always win in longer run, but Russia does not seem to be bothered with it. Much less now, after the Crimea’s euphoria.

On the other hand, Japan is being considered in Russia to be a part of “The West”, a hostile world that in Putin’s distorted view is set to subjugate and destroy Russia. So one can never expect that the level of covert dialogue possible between China and Russia, would also be possible between Japan and Russia. When the two thugs are talking they can understand each other well. But when a thug and a good citizen are talking the level of understanding is different.

Then author says that it will not be in the interests of Japan if Russia is to side with China on the Senkaku Islands. It is true that for Japan it is not desirable, but what is in it for Russia? Openly supporting China on Senkakus, which China has been demanding for several years, would mean that Russia has made its choice and is now under influence from China. Relations with Japan will be lost forever. No selling gas to Japan, no direct investments from Japan. It would be a huge loss for Russia and will leave it one on one with expanding China.

Then, as I wrote earlier, Russia is fortifying its military presence on the Northern Territories. In addition Russia has stepped up its provocations in the airspace. If this stupid behavior is called to influence Japan’s decision about supporting sanctions against it, then Putin has lost it completely. No government in Japan will be participating in a dialogue at the gunpoint. It is like Russia is begging for Japan to impose more sanctions of its own.

Japan’s position

Sure enough Japan would welcome the end of occupation of the Northern Territories. But “hikiwake” will never be an option. At least not while the close relatives of the people who were living there are alive. For Japan it is all or nothing. Again, no government in Japan can accept the 50/50 deal. Such government will cease to exist the same day, and the next one would denounce the agreement.

If you take a look at weather forecast by the most neutral NHK TV you will see that the Northern Territories (all four islands) are there on the weather map. I cannot imagine that one day only the two would be left. Agreeing to Putin’s ‘hikiwake’ would mean that the two northern islands will be lost for Japan forever. Of course PM Shinzo Abe understands it, and it has always been Japan’s official position that all four islands of the Northern Territories are to be returned.

So what is to happen if Russia is to openly side with China on the Senkakus? For Japan it would mean that any significant relations with Russia are over. But even with Russian support China’s position over the islands will not get any stronger. The support from Russia would not mean that Russia will fight for China over the Senkakus. For once Russia just does not have that much money and power. So we are talking only of the ‘diplomatic’ support – Russia would acknowledge China’s sovereignty over the Senkakus. After Obama has reaffirmed that the US would protect the Senkaku Islands this China-Russia ‘alliance’ may make America to recognize Japan’s sovereignty over the islands. In any case for Japan it is not a matter of significance whether Russia sides with China on Senkakus or not.

For Japan Russian military presence in the Northern Territories and provocations along Japan’s borders is a certain sign that the dialogue on the return of the Northern Territories is not on Putin’s agenda.

As it was correctly mentioned in the article, Putin’s occupation of Crimea will never be supported by Japan as it is a classic attempt of bending the international rules through the brute force – the very thing that China is trying to do in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Even China with its ethnic separatist conflicts cannot support Russian occupation of Crimea openly.

As an afterword

Today it was announced that G7 has agreed further “broader, coordinated sanctions” on Russia over Ukraine. Details are to be announced on Monday. Of course Japan, being a member of the G7 club would participate in these coordinated sanctions. The real question would be if Putin has already annoyed Japan enough for it to participate in the sanctions more proactively.

by naokawa

Editorial – Mitsui O.S.K. Lines pays China to settle the claim

As became known today Japanese company Mitsui O.S.K. Lines paid 4bil. yen in order to settle the claim from China and release its ship “Baosteel Emotion”.

It is said that the company considered that the losses from the inability to use the ship would be higher down the road and decided to pay the amount requested by the Chinese court plus the interest. The ship has already been released and left China.

Japanese government was not involved in the settlement, and it is said that the company did not request any help from the Japanese authorities in order to settle the matter.

However, the precedent is created now. And it is expected that further similar claims from China against the Japanese companies in China are to appear in the nearest future. And our companies will have to take such risks into account seriously. This will in turn make the production in China more expensive and Japanese companies will have even less incentive to expand their presence there. It is just not worth it.

Production in the South-East Asia is much cheaper now than it is in China. The Chinese market might still be important, so it is worthwhile to just keep the sales facilities there. No production lines, no fixed assets, no employment for the local Chinese staff. China started this and should pay for its insolence.

by naokawa

Newest surveillance P1 jet impresses Itsunori Onodera

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Apr 23 visited JMSDF airbase at Atsugi (Kanagawa pref.) and flew the next generation Japanese surveillance plane coded P1. This fully Japan-built jet plane will be the successor to P3C surveillance plane that is currently in use.

Defense Minister Onodera after the flight praised the new jet to the press: “I was surprised with performance. Avionics, surveillance, assault ability are superior. This jet is the world top class. Japanese high technology level is fully reflected in this plane.”

P3C surveillance plane is being gradually taken out of service because of aging since 2008. Its successor P1 has flying altitude increased by 30% and flying distance increased by 20%. Its radar’s detecting ability was also improved. Presently the jet is conducting test flies and starting 2015 it will be put into service.


Obama’s visit to Japan and the situation in Ukraine on Shinso news

The guests on “Shinso news” program on BS Nittere are
Tsuneo Watanabe of The Tokyo Foundation specializing in international relations, security policy and Japan-US, US-China relations
Yoko Hirose of Keio University researching former Soviet Union regional conflicts and the Caucasus region

The theme is “Obama’s visit to Japan and the situation in Ukraine”.

Obama’s visit to Japan

Obama’s administration is weak. Everybody says this. He is saying about Asia being priority, but you cannot really feel it. So TPP is the only thing left for Obama. If Japan and US cannot agree now, there is little possibility for the agreement to come into power during Obama’s term.

Both America and Japan have their own agendas so both countries will be trying to find common points and common interests.

Senkaku Defense

Senkaku is important for Japan, but not that important for America. This is the difference. For America situation in Russia and Ukraine is more important. But PM Abe does not want to go strong against Russia. At the same time America does not want to confront China. American people now concentrated on the internal affairs and America cannot and does not want to be as active on the international arena as it used to be.

Situation in Ukraine

America is definitely considering further sanctions, but since Obama has already ruled out direct military involvement economic sanctions is the only way left. But I do not really think that America will go all the way through with the sanctions. America depends on Russia on Iran issue and Afghanistan operations.

I think the harsh reaction from Europe and America was a bit of a surprise for Putin, and Russia is carefully considering its further actions in Ukraine.

I do not believe Russia wants to occupy the eastern Ukraine, but it may be forced into the situation, so that it would have to do so.

I think that the situation is definitely escalating in the east but not in other areas. In other areas people are living their normal lives. However, we can also see now that in the eastern Ukraine more people are starting to oppose the Russia’s overbearing attitude.

I think that Russians do not want military intervention into the eastern Ukraine. This can be seen from polls. Then, should this really happen Obama will have to impose further sanctions on Russia. These sanctions will be very damaging for the Russian economy. So Russia is not very keen on the intrusion idea either.

The situation in Crimes is different from that in the eastern Ukraine. Historically Crimea was very close to Russia, and was indeed a part of it, but during the Soviet era Crimea peninsula was ‘presented’ to Ukraine by the Soviet Union rulers. Eastern Ukraine is also close to Russia economically and culturally, but it has never been a part of Russian republic. There are fewer Russian speaking people on the east than it is in Crimea. And then Russia just will not be able to bear the cost of eastern Crimea occupation. From the economy point of view it will be very difficult for Russia to do so.
The idea of federalization of Ukraine pushed by Russia would actually split Ukraine as it contains a clause where the Ukrainian regions would be able to conduct their own foreign affairs independently of the Ukrainian state.

For Russia Ukraine is a buffer zone between it and NATO countries. At the same time Europe does not want Ukraine that much because it is the poorest country in Europe now. America also does not want to be actively involved and invite Ukraine to NATO because Russia is very sensitive about the issue. For example, Finland, another country bordering Russia, is not a part of NATO. So many parties want for the Ukraine to stay as it is politically. But international relations are difficult and may not be logical at times.

Many experts think that Ukraine should not join any military blocks like NATO and should remain a neutral country because it is historically close to both Russia and Europe.

The next step for the US to punish Russia would be economic sanctions. Heavy sanctions. Up to now the sanctions were very easy on Russia. One may expect that the sanctions would be increasing to that of imposed on Iran.

Russia has its opinion about how the international relations should be. Russia thinks that Europe and America will not go strong because Europe depends on Russia for natural resources.

What should Japan do about the situation in Ukraine

It is a difficult choice for Japan. Japan wants to maintain good relations with Russia because of energy and wants to win over better price for the natural gas, some of which is being imported from Russia. Then Japan needs help from various countries against China. Keeping America a priority PM Abe does not want for the Japan-Russia relations to worsen. But America also is not interested to aggravate relations with Russia very much. And both Japan and US do not want for Russia and China to get together.

Russia now is quite isolated internationally. Japan is supporting the sanctions against Russia. But among the G7 countries Japan’s sanctions are the lightest. I think Russia appreciates this.


Comment by naokawa
Does Russia really appreciate Japan being that generous? I don’t think so.

Japanese and American parliamentary groups exchanged opinions about Senkakus and TPP

The non-partisan Japan-US parliament members group (chairman Hirofumi Nakasone) on Apr 22 held a meeting with the US Lower House parliamentary group visiting Japan led by the majority leader Eric Cantor (Rep.). Japan parliament members expressed concerns over China continuously infringing Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands (Okinawa pref.) and relayed Japan side’s request for the US President Obama to reaffirm that the Senkaku Islands fall within the Japan-US Security Treaty.

Speaking about Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) American parliament members stated that if Japan and America are to create common rules together, it would help to apply pressure on China, which is trying to force its own rules upon other countries.

American parliamentary group left Japan on the afternoon of Apr 22 and is set to visit South Korea and China.


China’s seizure of Mitsui ship is an act of suicide

China’s court seized Mitsui company commercial ship over the so-called unpaid vessel lease fees before the outbreak of Japan-China war. Japanese government is considering countermeasures that might include appealing to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Japanese enterprises are very worried about China’s unlawful and reckless act. It it certain that investments in China will shrink and we will see more Japanese companies pull off from China. This will be equal to an act of suicide for Xi Jinping’s administration.

On Apr 21 chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga during regular press conference stated that Japan is considering countermeasures: “Japanese government expresses deepest regret. When signing the agreement on normalization of Japan-China diplomatic relations, China abandoned war damages compensation claims from Japan. This incident will undermine the very basis of the agreement.”

The seized ship “Baosteel Emotion” is transporting coal ore and belongs to Mitsui O.S.K. Lines. It is the first case in the post-war history when the property of a Japanese enterprise is being seized by the Chinese authorities.

Chinese court supported the plaintiffs, relatives of the managers of a Chinese transportation company, on the case that it lent a ship to a Japanese company “Daido Kaiun” in 1936, just before the start of Japan-China war, but the vessel lease fees were not paid. Daido Kaiun’s successor is Mitsui O.S.K. Lines.

Japanese government states that the right of claim from China has ceased to exist in 1972 when the joint Japan-China declaration was released. But Chinese court gave victory to the plaintiffs. Since Mitsui O.S.K. Lines did not pay the damages ordered, Shanghai court seized the company’s ship in Apr 19.

In China the lawsuits on the “forced labor” against Japanese companies are continuing. Japan reckons that if the things left as they are, it would result in more Japanese property being seized and considers the countermeasures including filing a suite in the International Court of Justice.

Speaking of lawsuits against Japanese companies under Xi Jinping regime a person involved with a Japanese company points out: “If there are more cases when Japanese enterprises would suffer losses, it would give them more reasons to move to the South-East Asia.”

Even now according to the Chinese Commerce Department released Apr 17, direct investments from Japan in Jan~Mar decreased 47.2% in comparison to the previous year to $129 million (¥1.233 billion).

Masahiro Miyazaki, an analytic well familiar with China’s situation says this: “In Hu Jintao times they never did such things. Now they go through all the way with their abuses. For China it is equal to a suicide”.

Miyazaki continues: “In China administration does not function, and there is no separation of the three branches of government. Everything is being decided by the higher-up in the communist party. It is not the country that is governed by the law. Japanese companies will continue decreasing their investments in China. When we look at other big companies – only General Motors (US) and Volkswagen (GER) are increasing their investments in China. The perception that expanding in China is a mistake will be spreading all over.”


Editorial – Russian defense ministry says Russian planes approach Japan on purpose

In the recent weeks there were a tremendous increase in cases of the Russian jets approaching Japan’s airspace. Japan Air Self-Defense Forces had to scramble in each case to follow the Russian planes. Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera expressed deep concerns over the Russia’s activities. Still Japan believed it was due to the fact that Russia was worried about North Korea preparing for the new rocket launches.

Japan and Russia was working on the agreement to prevent possible incidents from occurring near the borders of both countries. But after Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and occupation of Crimea Japan stopped all work on the agreement.

Today the deputy for the Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said to the Russian ITAR-TASS news agency that “the incident (with the Russian planes approaching Japan’s airspace) on Apr 14 will be a good lesson for our Japanese colleagues to continue work with the Russian defense ministry (on the Japan-Russia agreement on preventing of the dangerous military activities)”.

Putin is on the high about his ‘victories’ in Ukraine and increased support from the Russian increasingly lumpenized population. It is time to teach Russia that Japan is not Ukraine. A couple of warning shots by Japan’s fighters will make it.

Japan was easy on sanctions against Russia so far. But such provocations will certainly make Abe’s administration to reconsider. And should the US ask for Japan’s help on more sanctions against Russia, it would be much easier for Japan to say yes.

by naokawa