Japan, Relations with

   Historically, Russo-Japanese relations have been plagued by territorial conflicts, beginning with the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905. Russia’s defeat resulted in the virtual destruction of the country’s naval fleet, an internal revolution, and the loss of the southern half of Sakhalin Island. Japan later intervened in the Russian Civil War (1918–1921) in an attempt to crush the Bolsheviks and exert control over the Russian Far East. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) maintained neutrality toward the island nation during most of the Pacific War (1937–1945), only declaring war on Japan on 9 August 1945. With Japan’s surrender less than a week later, the Soviets became an occupying force in its former imperial domains, including Manchuria and northern Korea. The Soviet Union annexed southern Sakhalin and the Kuril Island chain (including the four southernmost islands known as the Northern Territories in Japan), affixing them to the Sakhalin Oblast of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. As the Cold War set in, the status of the southern Kurils became a point of friction between the Kremlin and the United States, with the latter backing Japan’s position that the Northern Territories were not part of the Kurils and thus not the legal property of the Soviet Union. In 1956, Moscow and Tokyo, in an effort to normalize relations, agreed on the transfer of the Habomai and the Shikotan islands to Japan once a permanent peace treaty was signed between the two countries; however, such a treaty has yet to be finalized primarily due to Japanese demand for the return of four rather than two islands. During the 1990s, Boris Yeltsin regularly stated his intention to end the territorial dispute and sign a peace treaty, but to no avail. Relations between an independent Russian Federation and Japan developed rapidly under Yeltsin; however, the economic imbalance between the nations was characterized by Japanese dominance. Under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s economic turnaround allowed the country to restructure its previously subservient relationship with Japan; these new realities were reflected in January 2003 when Putin and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi signed the RussoJapanese Action Plan to improve bilateral ties.
   Trade between the two countries is growing rapidly (between 20–30 percent per year), standing at over $13 billion in 2006. Trade is expected to increase after the estimated 2012 completion of the Taishet-Nakhodka pipeline (currently, oil shipments are sent via rail from Skovorodino to the Pacific port of Nakhodka). In 2003, Koizumi pledged loans of $14 billion to finance the pipeline and additional economic support for projects in the Russian Far East to help secure the route, which bypasses China. New initiatives between the two countries also include the development of an energy bridge (electricity and natural gas) linking Sakhalin and Hokkaido. A number of large Japanese firms, including Toyota, have invested in the Russian Federation in recent years.
   Cooperation in the high-tech field is also improving, with Russian software makers partnering with Japanese computer manufacturers. A high-level visit in 2007 to Japan by Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and 200 business leaders deepened economic linkages. In terms of international diplomacy, joint membership in the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program has stimulated increased bilateral cooperation on security in northeast Asia. Cooperation on transnational crime fighting is also substantial, as both governments seek to stifle alliances between the Russian mafia and Japanese yakuza.
   See also Foreign investment; Foreign trade.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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