Distant Neighbors Volume Two: Japanese-Russian Relations under Gorbachev and Yeltsin

By Meyer, Peggy Falkenheim | Demokratizatsiya, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Distant Neighbors Volume Two: Japanese-Russian Relations under Gorbachev and Yeltsin


Meyer, Peggy Falkenheim, Demokratizatsiya


Distant Neighbors Volume Two: Japanese-Russian Relations under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, Hiroshi Kimura. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2000. 376 pp. $89.95 hardcover.

Why has there been less progress in Russia's relations with Japan over the past decade and a half than in Russia's relations with China, the Republic of Korea, and other countries? To what extent was this attributable to failure first by Gorbachev then by Yeltsin to understand the potential benefits of improving relations with Japan and to support needed territorial concessions? To what extent were they constrained by domestic politics?

Did Japanese policymakers understand and react appropriately to the significant changes that were taking place first in the USSR and then in Russia and to the opportunities and challenges they presented? Did they show a realistic appreciation of the intentions of policymakers in Moscow and the constraints under which they were operating?

Those are only a few of the questions that are addressed in Distant Neighbors, Hiroshi Kimura's monumental and impressive two-volume study of relations between Russia and Japan. The second volume, the focus of this review, analyzes the Gorbachev and Yeltsin periods.

Hiroshi Kimura, professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, is eminently well qualified to address this subject. He is Japanese, fluent in Russian and English. He has spent a lifetime studying Russia and its relations with Japan. Kimura is known to have close relations with Japanese policy makers, which provides him unique insights into the thinking behind Tokyo's policy toward Russia. These insights make his work invaluable to specialists. Nonspecialists will benefit from reading Kimura's analysis, which reflects his broad knowledge of Western international relations literature and his deep understanding of historical, cultural, and domestic political factors influencing foreign policy decision making and negotiating behavior in Moscow and Tokyo.

Kimura argues that progress under Gorbachev was impeded not only by wideranging Soviet domestic opposition to a territorial concession but also by Gorbachev's own attitude (85-94). Gorbachev understood Japan's importance better than his predecessors, who tended to treat Japan as an appendage of the United States. However, it was only late in his term in office that Gorbachev came to recognize that progress in relations with Japan would not be possible without some movement forward on their territorial dispute. Even then, however, he was more inclined to make changes in tactics than to make any meaningful concession (47-51).

There was a brief period at the very beginning of Yeltsin's term when he could have made a territorial concession. However, that window of opportunity soon was closed by the rise of rightist forces. Their growing influence over policy helped to persuade Yeltsin to announce a last-minute postponement of his planned September 1992 visit to Tokyo.

Despite the territorial stalemate, there were signs in the late 1990s that Moscow and Tokyo were interested in improving their relations. Kimura argues that Japan's desire to improve relations with Russia was sparked by growing concern about an increasingly powerful China and about instability on the Korean peninsula and elsewhere in Asia (204-05).

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