Monday, August 31, 2009

Yukio Hatoyama: Japan's first Russophile Prime Minister

Japan-Russian relations ought to blossom under its new Prime Minister.

The outcome of Japan's election is really big news.  "This is the end of the post-war political system in Japan" as one observer put it.  At long last, Japan's hopelessly corrupt LDP party has been swept from power and Japan has joined the ranks of the world's mature democracies.

AP explains that the "Democratic Party of Japan claimed a majority of seats, the first time in postwar history that a single opposition party has gained a majority. . . .  Yukio Hatoyama, the head of the Democrats, is a near certainty to become Japan's next prime minister and replace Aso."

The press is chattering about what the election victory will mean for Japan's relations with China.   That is, of course, a big question.

But Japan is not the only major power in East Asia which has reason to be obsessed about its relations with China.    That other country I am thinking about is Russia.   And we shall see, Hatoyama's victory ought to shed new light on this important coincidence.

No country has to be more concerned about the rise of China than Russia.  Russia has a big China problem, and it's the mother of all Russian problems.  How, faced with a declining population, can Russia hold onto the richest piece of real-estate on the planet?  How can Russians hope to retain for themselves the vast expanse of sparsely populated territory lying adjacent to the most populous nation on earth?  Of course, I'm talking about Siberia. 

Russia desperately needs a friend.  In the future, Russia will likely find an ally in Japan.  That's because  like China, Japan also seeks resources.  But unlike China, Japanese immigration does not pose any kind of a threat to Russian sovereignty.  Russians will find it inconceivable that Japanese investment in Siberia would be as politically destabilizing as Chinese investment.

Japan also needs a new friend. With American power set to decline -- even if only gradually -- the extent of America's ability to meet its future security commitments to Japan will grow increasingly uncertain.  Japan stands in need of an ally close to home. 

Who better to kick off what promises to be the start of a beautiful friendship than Yukio Hatoyama,  Japan's first Russophile prime minister?   Here are some little-known facts* about Hatoyama's credentials as a Russophile (Kommersant, h/t Sanjuro):
  • Hatoyama's only son (trained as engineer like his father) works at the Moscow State University
  • Hatoyama served as chairman of the Russia-Japan Society
  • Hatoyama's grandfather personally travelled to Moscow in 1956 to restore diplomatic relations with the USSR
  • Both Hatoyamas are rumored to be well-connected in Russia.
But this love affair won't happen overnight.  According to a 2006 Gallup Poll, only 9% of Japanese hold a favorable view of Russia.  From the Japanese perspective, this relationship can only grow warmer.   Which it almost certainly will under Hatoyama, as it is in the interest of both countries to resolve the longstanding territorial dispute concerning the Northern Territories/Southern Kurils. 

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