Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 185

The rush of events in Russia, moreover, threatens to sweep aside the diplomatic gains which Japan and Russia have eked out over the past two years. The primary architect of improved relations between the two countries, former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, has now been out of office for more than a year, though he continues to play an unofficial role in Russian-Japanese affairs. Obuchi, who served as foreign minister under Hashimoto, remains a constant. But he appears never to have built up the kind of rapport which Hashimoto enjoyed with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Minoru Tamba, who was recently named ambassador to Russia, is another constant. Until his latest appointment he served both as deputy foreign minister with responsibility for Russia and as co-chairman of a key Russian-Japanese intergovernmental commission. It is unclear whether he will exercise the same influence in his new capacity. Kono, meanwhile, who also served as Japanese foreign minister in the mid-1990s, is a new factor in the Russian-Japanese equation. Ryozo Kato, a Japanese deputy foreign minister who will replace Tamba as head of the Russian-Japanese intergovernmental commission, is another. This commission oversees negotiations relative to the peace treaty as well as to both the territorial row and questions related to bilateral economic cooperation on the disputed islands.

There are no such personnel changes on the Russian side, though Yeltsin’s unending infirmities and his constant shuffling of prime ministers have presented anything but an image of constancy to Tokyo. And with parliamentary and presidential elections approaching, Japanese leaders no doubt fear an impending deluge of change within the Russian political leadership–one that could endanger the diplomatic gains made by Tokyo and Moscow over the past two years. Such considerations appear to be driving Tokyo’s increasingly urgent calls for Yeltsin to visit Japan so that the two countries can get on with their treaty and border negotiations. Indeed, appeals of this sort appear to be at least one constant that has been carried over from Japan’s former foreign minister to its current one. In remarks to reporters yesterday, Kono emphasized that Moscow and Tokyo need to hold summit talks in order to jump-start stagnating relations. He also said that he would try to ensure that Yeltsin visits Japan this year (Kyodo, October 5).

Although Yeltsin’s delays in scheduling a trip to Japan are undoubtedly related to enduring differences over the territorial issue, other factors are probably also at play. One involves Russia’s opposition to Japanese-U.S. plans for a theater missile defense system in Asia. Another, however, is undoubtedly related to the Russian president’s poor health, together with Russia’s continuing political instability. Japan is not the only country, after all, waiting on a long-overdue visit by Yeltsin. The Russian president was also set to visit India late last year, but wound up postponing the trip. Preparations are said to be continuing for summit talks in New Delhi, but, despite the great importance which Moscow attaches to Indian-Russian ties, the Kremlin has yet to set a date. Finally, Yeltsin is planning an informal summit meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, but the two sides have been slow to set a definite date for the meeting. Sources in Beijing reportedly indicated recently that the Russian president would visit China in the latter part of November, but there has been no official announcement from Moscow to confirm that date (Russian agencies, September 27, 30).