Trilateral + Trilateral = Quadrilateral?

Just as I set out to open this blog as an ongoing discussion of the international relationship between China, Japan, and the United States, I am reminded by current news that there is another important trilateral relationship: China-Japan-Russia.

(Russian border guards shot a Japanese fisherman in waters surrounding disputed islands called the Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan. Russia claims the sailor and his mates were poaching and had illegally crossed a border. Japan insists that Russia release the prisoners and the dead sailor’s body.)

The recent conventional wisdom is that Russia became less important to the East Asian equation since the fall of the Soviet Union. Before 1989, the argument goes, Japan couldn’t afford to alienate China, lest the CCP ally closer with the Kremlin. Since Japan fell solidly on the U.S. side of the Cold War divisions, this was a global strategic problem.

Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro of Japan enflamed Chinese sensibilities with his visit to Yasukuni Shrine on August 15, 1985, the 40th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in World War II. One possible reason that he made no later visits is the strategic importance of strong ties with China. Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro faces no such concerns, and has publicly alienated China with his six yearly shrine visits—even if on the whole economic relations were healthy.

Given the history of Japan-China-Russia trilateral ties and Japan-China-United States relations, it is reasonable to discuss implications of a Russo-Japanese dispute for Chinese and U.S. relations with others in the region. So here we have a quadrilateral relationship. Add the Koreas and that’s hexagonal. Toss in ASEAN‘s 10 members and, well, that’s a region! At any rate, I have a lot of reading to do.

Also: An interesting question on the Kurils/Northern Territories incident is what if any implications will this have for the China-Japan Pinnacle Islands dispute or the Korea-Japan Tokto/Takeshima dispute.