Russia, China and Japan: Putin's Oriental Puzzle

As President Vladimir Putin flew back to Russia after his much postponed visit to Japan, he could have been forgiven for asking whether it had been worth all the trouble. A seemingly interminable dispute over possession of a few rocky outcrops not only casts a long shadow over Russia-Japan relations, but it represents arguably the greatest impediment to a proper Asian policy for Moscow.

The World Today Published 1 December 2005 Updated 15 October 2020 4 minute READ

Bobo Lo

International Relations Analyst, Independent

Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tokyo came at a critical time in Russia’s relations with its Asian neighbours. The trip, immediately following the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Pusan, highlights a major dilemma exercising the Kremlin. Should Russia continue to base its eastern policy on strategic partnership with China, or adopt a more balanced approach of strategic diversity centred on rapprochement with Japan?

The logic of diversification is compelling – and recognised as such by Putin. Since coming to power in January 2000, he has consistently trumpeted the virtues of a geographically balanced foreign policy that prizes good relations with east and west, north and south, but which is independent and beholden to none. In the Asia-Pacific, Putin sees strategic flexibility as the most effective means of promoting Russia’s security, geopolitical and economic interests.

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