Japan will need to decide on further sanctions against Russia in the view of Malaysia Airlines jet being shot down in the Eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian terrorists or maybe even by Russian troops.
Some Russian analysts believe that Japan does not want to impose any sanctions on Russia and that PM Abe wants to keep good relations with Putin in the view of the expected talks over the Northern Territories occupied by Soviet Union and now Russia. Another reason is that PM Abe is supposedly building some sort of security belt around China and the Japan does not want for Russia and China to become close allies. But at the end, say these analysts, if US will force Japan to impose more sanctions on Russia, hinting that Japan will never go against the US.
Do these arguments really have any ground?
It is true that Japan is interested in normal relationship with Russia (as with any neighboring country), but the faint possibility of returning the Northern Territories is not worth letting Putin have its way in the middle of Europe. Yes, Ukraine is very far from Japan and there is little to no interest of Japan and Japanese companies in Ukraine. However, not giving proper response to Putin’s aggression would mean that Japan is giving silent approval to changing the existing international rules by force. And this would give China a go ahead to do the same in the Eastern and South-Eastern Asia.
Then, should Japan really be worried about Russia and China becoming close allies? Not really. After Russia signed the so-called gas deal with China this year Chinese representative openly mentioned that Russia have a vast territories and China has a lot of industrious people, and that is why the two countries should cooperate. This makes China’s agenda very much clear. Putin is not a complete idiot not to understand this, but even if he is, the tycoons around him will explain the problem. Russia far from being interested to be hugged to death by China. It rather tries to scare the West by demonstrating its warm relations with China and pretending it can get by without the European markets. But nobody believes this bluff now. Neither should Japan.
But what is more important, Japan should think about its international responsibility if we want to play a bigger role in Asia and in the world. Sometimes this calls to put national interests behind the international responsibility. This responsibility lies with Japan as well as with the US.