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Editorial – Towards a new strategic configuration in the Far East and globally? Japan, China, the U.S. and Russia – As so many are focusing on the last round of global protests, now in Ukraine, in Venezuela, and in Thailand (although the situation there is much less emphasized in crowdsourced news), or on the seemingly always rising tensions across the Middle East, in the Far East, tension has gone up at least a notch, with the Japanese government suggesting it wanted to revisit the 1993 study leading to Japan’s 1994 apologies for South Korean “comfort women” during World War II (see Washington Post article).
Furthermore and most noticeably, Japan seems also not to be hesitating anymore to risk “a chill” with its American ally, to use the wording of Martin Fackler’s article in the New York Times (19 Feb 2014), as a high-ranking lawmaker underlined his disappointment with the U.S. (for not supporting strongly enough Japan in its disputes with its neighbours), or as “Naoki Hyakuta, who was appointed by the prime minister himself to the governing board of public broadcaster NHK, said in a speech that the Tokyo war tribunal after World War II was a means to cover up the “genocide” of American air raids on Tokyo and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki” (Ibid.). Naoki Hyakuta is familiar with those types of comments (e.g. David MacNeill, The Independent, 7 Feb 2014).
These declarations show first and obviously the always high and rising level of tension existing in the area, as both China and Japan assert their territorial claims, as well as the nationalist drive of Japan, decided to see its anti-war constitution changed (e.g. John Hofilena, JDP, 2 January 2014). The economic backdrop of less than satisfactory results makes the situation particularly worrying as war may be seen as a way out of economic problems. What is here new and, at first glance, surprising is that in such a tense situation Japan could wish to risk to alienate the U.S.. As a hypothesis, the new chill may become less surprising if we remember that on 8 February Japanese PM Shinzo Abe met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, and if we recall that “five summits have been held between the two leaders in thirteen months” (Reuters, 8 Feb 2014). The two countries are, true enough, working upon signing the peace treaty that would end their territorial dispute but also share strong interests in trade, notably oil and gaz, which are all the more important to Japan considering Fukushima (e.g. ibid). We may thus wonder if the new “chill” with the U.S. initiated by Japan, is not allowed by the warm relationships with Russia, as well as a signal of the strength of this relationship. It may also be a Japanese warning to the U.S., considering the importance of Japan in their “Pivot to Asia” strategy that, if the U.S. does not support them more strongly they may very well turn more and further towards Russia. In all cases this is an extremely interesting development, which has the potential to dramatically redraw the strategic configuration not only in the Far East but also globally (economically and geopolitically).
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Featured Image: Photo – the Presidential Press and Information Office of the Russian Presidency, Sochi, Before the meeting with Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe.February 8, 2014