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May 25, 2017

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Abe can't beat Putin in territories row

At long last, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was able to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Nagato, Yamaguchi Prefecture on Dec. 14. Abe first met Putin at Moscow in 2013. The second Abe-Putin meeting took place in the resort city of Sochi near the Black Sea last May. They talked about how to solve the dispute over Japan's "Northern Territories" of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and Hambomai of the Kuril Islands. In early September, they met at Vladivostok for the third time. Then again they met and talked at Lima on the sidelines of an informal APEC summit in November. In return, Putin visited Japan for the first time after postponing it once and again because of the conflict in Crimea.

Postwar Russia-Japan relations have been complicated not just by the Northern Territories dispute but also persistent U.S. restraint on Japan's foreign policy. That is why Putin, who knows full well Abe is under American pressure, chose the best time — when Washington is in governmental transition — to go to Nagato to get a meeting point of the former's "Global Diplomacy" and the latter's "Pivot to Asia."

Because of the fast rise of China, Japan has to rearrange the military deployment to avoid a pincer movement from the north and the west. Part of the defense forces deployed in north Japan, chiefly in Hokkaido, to repel possible Russian attacks must be moved to the west to face the new possible enemy of the People's Republic of China.

As China-Japan relations sour and while Russia and the United States prepare to start a detente, Abe's Japan is being constrained by Putin's Russia. But unlike Mao Zedong, who was insulted by Nikita Khrushchev at a poolside cabana in Beijing's Zhungnanhai (中南海), Abe received Putin at his hometown of Yumoto Onsen, a hot spring resort, as a state guest to telepathically cultivate an intimate personal friendship to better tackle the problem of the Northern Territories still under Russian occupation since the end of World War II. The Soviet Union did not take part in the San Francisco Peace Conference and the two countries have yet to sign a peace treaty to formally end the war. As a matter of fact, Abe is doing what he can to fulfill the last wish of his maternal grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, the premier who got the pivotal Mutual Defense Agreement between Japan and the United States signed.

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