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Country Study: Japan and Russia (29th March 2006)

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  1. Theoretical Framework
  2. The United States in decline?
  3. Challenging traditional stances
  4. Structural challenge: overcoming the hegemony
  5. The situation in China
  6. Tracks of thought
    1. Conflict
    2. Collapse of China
    3. Comparative Advantage


Japan and Russia are two important powers in the world, leaving quite close to each other. Its geographical position should be an asset in its relationship with Asia as a whole. Its territory is 17,075,200 km2 for a population of 143.4 million according to the American CIA . Not only has Russia a large territory, but it is also quite rich in natural resources: ?oil, natural gas, coal, and many strategic minerals, timber.? As for Japan, it is considered as the first economic power in Asia with a GDP of $3.867 trillion in 2005 and a GDP per capita $30,400.

So both countries are important in the region. However, the relationships between them do not reflect their regional importance. We could argue that until 1991, the Cold War was at the origin of such a situation.

In 1945, Japan has been defeated by the Allied and therefore was not considered as an independent and sovereign state for quite a long time. Its territory was occupied by the Russians in the North and the Americans in the South. The Japan-US security treaty, signed in 1947, was to put the country under the military protection of the US as Japan had been prohibited to have its own military forces through the treaty of San Francisco. So at the beginning of the Cold War, Japan was seen as neutral by the USSR until 1956 when the Japan-US security treaty was renewed.

From then on, the Soviet considered Japan as being a Western country, which explains why it tended not to develop any kind of relationship during this period. Japan and Russia began to normalise their relationships in 1986 with Gorbatchev's Perestroika. So we are dealing with freshly reborn diplomatic links. Still, in comparison with other powers' relationship with Russia, Japan is a particular example of lack of cooperation.

Indeed, in a global world, we could expect two important economic powers to cooperate. More interconnectedness between them could be profitable for both as they have a central role and place in North East Asian. But actually patterns in both countries undermine Russia and Japan's relationship and in first place the territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands in the North of Japan.

Analyzing relationships between Russia and Japan means first examining the territorial dispute. Every visit, meeting or forum between Russia and Japan mention the Kuril Islands (in Russian) or the Chishima Retto in Japanse or Nothern Territories. The quarrel is about four islands, Shikotan, Kunashir, Eterofu and Habomai, to the north of Japan near the island of Hokkaido, supposedly in the Kuril chain which is made of thirty-six islands according to scholars. The control of this chain enables the control of the entry to the Okhotsk Sea. (see appendix 1) So it is indeed a strategic location. However the problem only lies in four islands among many of them; but the belonging of Habomai and Shikotan is often contested, seen as part of Hokkaido Island.

Tags:Kuril Island dispute,Japan-US security treaty,territorial dispute

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