Courtesy Reuters

Japan and Russia: The View from Tokyo

The next logical step in the Asian quadrille is Japanese-Soviet rapprochement.

To state the obvious, by its détente with China in 1971 the United States finally recognized the Sino-Soviet rift and ended the bipolar cold war. Partly in response, the Soviet Union restrained its own rivalry with the United States by signing in May 1972 a treaty limiting missile buildups. China then preempted any possible Soviet-Japanese entente by ending her hostility toward Japan and in September opening diplomatic relations with Tokyo for the first time in a generation.

In historic terms, all these major shifts came rapidly. It seemed obvious that the Russians must then move to seek closer ties with Japan, to preëmpt in their turn any Chinese entente with this third-largest economy in the world. So far, however, the inevitable is occurring at a notably slow pace. In January 1972, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko did indeed come smiling to Tokyo just before President Nixon's visit to Peking. The visit clearly signaled a new Soviet interest in Japan, for ever since 1968 Gromyko had postponed the return engagement for what were to have been "annual" ministerial talks. And on his 1972 visit he deliberately did not repeat Moscow's harsh stock phrase about the disputed islands the Soviet Union took from Japan at the end of World War II: that all territorial questions had been settled by wartime and postwar agreements.

Budding Soviet cordiality toward Japan froze, however, with the swift Sino-Japanese normalization. Last October, on the eve of Foreign Minister Ohira's trip to Moscow to reopen peace treaty negotiations stalled since 1956, Red Star and Pravda attacked Japan's current rearmament and revived the issue of her half-century-old intervention in the Russian civil war. Ohira conspicuously did not get to meet General Secretary Brezhnev and had to spend most of his time in Moscow parrying suspicions that Sino-Japanese rapprochement was directed against the Soviet Union. At the same time, the Russians again took a tough line on the disputed islands.

The political freeze, however,

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