Country Report: Japan (April 2015)

Funabashi Yoichi in the March issue of Gaiko called on the Japanese to polish up their geopolitcal acumen, recognizing that they now face risks unlike any in the Cold War except at the time of the Korean War. The pastoral age is over, making geography and history big factors influencing their country’s foreign policy and strategy. As in its past, Japan must view the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan as the frontlines of life-and-death significance in stopping the enemy’s advance. These considerations are affecting bilateral relations with China and South Korea. Access points for a stable supply of oil and gas, especially from the Middle East, are in the forefront too, as India and China also extend their military reach to them. Securing Japan’s freedom of navigation is indispensable, Funabashi notes, citing the Strait of Hormuz, the Malacca Strait, the Indian Ocean, and the South China Sea. Another factor in his analysis is able-bodied population, a sign of Japan’s decline, as the elderly approach 40 percent of its dwindling total—an issue China will face too. Funabashi stresses the wide gap with China in geopolitical thinking, which leads to mutual misunderstanding. He emphasizes that Japan’s long-term strategic thinking requires a liberal international order, globally and regionally. Located at the heart of the first island chain, Japan must calculate the risks of any country that is seeking hegemony in the Asia-Pacific, regardless if it is restraining Japan or being friendly. After serving as editor of Asahi Shimbun in 2007-2012, Funabashi is devoting himself to strategizing on how to rebuild Japan.

Takagi Seiichiro in the April Toa discussed the twenty-first Century Maritime Silk Road concept, which Xi Jinping introduced in Indonesia on October 3, 2013, just a month after his call in Kazakhstan for a New Silk Road Economic Belt, which together became “One Road, One Belt.” Arguing that these concepts have not been well studied, he explained that he was taking a first shot at the maritime theme, beginning by listing the many occasions when China’s leaders raised this concept. He notes this is a revival of an old route, one originated by Zheng He in the Ming Dynasty. The concept has three elements: hardware of communications infrastructure; software of rules, systems, standards, and policies; and human ties of friendship, mutual trust, and cultural exchanges. Later came the AIIB to supply funds for the silk road that, in collaboration with the ASEAN maritime cooperation fund, will amount to a total USD 100 billion, half of which China will provide with the AIIB’s formal establishment at the end of 2015. This pursuit will serve China in various ways, including using some of its surplus capacity for construction (given a decline in domestic demand), forging a vast market for Chinese goods, and stimulating local prosperity through cross-border local ties. For Takagi, this signifies a foreign relations strategy to counter the US concept of the Indo-Pacific region, which it sought to lead, as both are making Southeast Asia the nexus to the Indian Ocean.

Watanabe Shino in the March Toa analyzed China’s Silk Road Economic Belt concept from the point of view of its domestic situation and foreign relations. While finding this a possible turning point in China’s foreign policy, he considers it also a difficult challenge. Watanabe distinguishes five elements: enlarging the commonalities in national policies; strengthening connectivity through communications infrastructure; expanding trade and investment; increasing the convertibility of China’s currency and the range of its use; and advancing human exchanges. At the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in Bishkek in September 2014, Xi included as measures for developing this belt: building a communications and transport route connecting the Baltic Sea and Pacific Ocean; strengthening financial cooperation and energy cooperation based on the SCO; and forging a food security mechanism. This analysis: puts Central Asia at the core (including the SCO and the Eurasian Economic Union) reaching all the way to Belarus; groups India, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, and areas as far away as Ukraine in the second ring of the belt; and extends in multiple directions to the European Union, West Asia, and Japan in the third ring. The article concentrates on Central Asia, describing China’s plan as a Eurasian land bridge and explaining why in 2013-2014 the plan materialized in response to both internal and external circumstances.

The domestic impetus, Watanabe explains, was the dawning realization of a shadow darkening the high-speed growth model. Markets in advanced countries were tightening. China’s labor costs were rising, making it harder to serve as the final assembly point for manufacturing. Through opening its northwest more, China could make Central Asia part of its division of labor. In 2010, China had extended the plan for developing its west set in 2000, and it continues to seek greater balance between its east and west, while looking to this initiative also to promote the Han presence and dilute the minority ethnic presence in Xinjiang. Moreover, this land bridge would reduce China’s 80 percent dependence on oil imports by sea, reducing the transport risk. Central Asia would gain with development of its rich resources. This continental strategy serves strategic and economic objectives.

The foreign impetus for Watanabe derives from at least three factors. First was the decision to prioritize neighborhood diplomacy from 2013, turning away from great power relations. Second was the calculation that, given Russia’s situation, the time had come in 2013 for deepening relations with Central Asia, following two decades of less favorable circumstances in China, Central Asia and, notably, in Russia that limited China’s options. Russia’s world influence has declined, and China saw a favorable opportunity to intensify its involvement in Central Asia just as Russia’s need for China’s support was growing. As the US shale revolution gained force, Middle Eastern gas exports shifted to European states, reducing their demand for Russian supplies, which lost the ability to set prices. Russia needs China for new markets, and Central Asian states do too. Meanwhile, the US push for TPP and rebalance have limited China’s options in Southeast Asia. For Takagi, Southeast Asia is the maritime focus, but regionalism there has been slowed. For Watanabe, Central Asia is the continental focus, and regionalism is now accelerating.

There has been much discussion about the significance of China’s AIIB and the rush of countries to join this bank for infrastructure investment. On March 31, Tokyo Shimbun concluded that this marks the end of the era when just going in lockstep with the United States sufficed. Now, inside the United States, voices are calling the US response an error in judgment, while Japan’s exclusion is a cause for concern about the reduced sense of its presence in Asia. This turnabout, which is linked to the US Congress’ rejection of IMF reform to raise China’s share, despite the G20 agreeing to this five years ago, is an historical turning point in the postwar international financial order. For Japan, which isolated itself in Asia by one-sidedly leaning to the United States, it means that China has grabbed the leading role in Asia. Yomiuri Shimbun had a somewhat less pessimistic view. A March 26 article left open the possibility, after making some adjustments along with the United States, of participating in the bank, but an editorial noted that 30 some states (including 4 in the G7) are joining. Moreover, China has excessive control and may operate the bank to its own advantage without due regard for the environment and human rights and without guarantees of transparency and fairness. Thus, a cautious response is necessary.

Yet, the article asserted that Japan and the United States should work to make sure that the AIIB operates in accordance with international rules through joint operations with the World Bank and the ADB. While acknowledging the extension of China’s influence in Asia and the undesired impact on the international financial order, it also noted that all this was restrained.

On March 29, however, the emphasis in Yomiuri had shifted to concerns about China’s hegemonic strategy and containment of the United States in a new economic order led by China. On March 30, Yomiuri Shimbun raised doubts that with so many states joining, China would listen to US demands. The fact that half of the states negotiating TPP were joining was deemed painful for the United States, which wanted to set new economic rules under its leadership. Asahi Shimbun stressed alarm in international society, accentuating the shift in the West-centered financial order, and on April 1, called on the Japanese government to explain why it is not participating. At the opposite end of the political spectrum, Sankei was most forceful in depicting this as blocking the US rebalancing to Asia and splitting the United States and its allies in order to exclude US power from the western Pacific. It also stressed the even greater urgency for TPP so that democratic states would counter China’s strategy of using the AIIB to support the Maritime Silk Road, in which the PLA is in the forefront and where the “string of pearls” strategy has not changed. Yet, this response on March 25 was followed by a warning on April 2 that China’s own financial system is beginning to collapse with many details about existing problems. On April 4, Sankei described the “avalanche” of states joining the AIIB as a defeat by China of Japan and the United States, which did not even fight, again making a linkage to the PLA with assertions of fears that China views the infrastructure to be of military use.

Japan’s provision of ODA was debated in February. Yomiuri Shimbun on February 11 editorialized that ODA is an important diplomatic “card,” and its contents must change with the times. In August 2003, maintaining the national interest that was first included in the program for ODA, it noted the Abe administration is striving to make ODA more strategic. In the framework that was just announced, non-military activities of armed forces can now be supported, such as recovery in post-conflict situations or disaster relief. Sankei Shimbun was particularly enthusiastic about this change as a contribution to world peace and prosperity on the occasion of the seventieth anniversary of the war’s end. Also commenting on February 11, Asahi Shimbun observed that this means dropping limitations on countries that already had “graduated” from ODA. It stressed that this meant a big change in Japan’s ODA, linking security and economic national interests. Already, Japan’s ODA has been cut in half since its peak in 1997. After a decade as first in ODA, in 2001, it lost that ranking, falling to fourth after the United States, Great Britain, and Germany in 2013, while China is surpassing Japan in financial assistance. Asahi expressed concern that the standards are not clarified on how military use of the funds would transpire, and its editorial worried that this would lead to expanded assistance for military goals. It added that Japanese must not forget that this is connected to the international society’s trust in Japan. On March 23, Tanaka Akihiko, president of JICA, clarified the revised framework in Yomiuri Shimbun, stressing human security as Japan’s guiding principle, as established in the December 2013 National Security Strategy. However, while he noted that national security requires more than military means, he pointed out that raising human security’s importance does not mean reducing the importance of the nation’s security, i.e., the latter naturally must be defended for the nation to fulfill its fundamental responsibility toward the latter.

While ODA to the Middle East has recently drawn attention, and ODA to Southeast Asia is considered the prime arena for competition with China, the Pacific Islands are also considered an ODA battlefront. On March 21, Sankei Shimbun pointed to thinking in advance of the seventh triennial summit with the leaders of the islands to be held in Iwaki, Japan in May. Remarking that some in the region are concerned about a Chinese threat to the Pacific order, it observes that as a result of a 2006 coup d’etat in Fiji, the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), inclusive of Australia and New Zealand, has stalled, just as China has widened its role, including military and student exchanges. In 2012, Fuji led the way in establishing with China’s encouragement a regional body that excludes these two larger island countries. Chinese have also been busy buying land in the north and sending tourists to the south of Palau, where Japan’s Emperor and Empress were to visit on April 9. That state welcomes China’s assistance, but it welcomes other players, including the United States. Japan cannot rest on the laurels of the six prior summits, Sankei adds. This time, unlike the past two times, the leader of Fiji has indicated that he will be present. With two rival regional groups, Japan must not lose sight of the struggle over the regional order, cooperating with quasi-ally Australia and New Zealand, the article asserts, and providing effective support to these islands for disaster relief and climate change, exchanges and training, and maritime issues. The article concludes by specifying two clear goals: fostering pro-Japan youth and defending the norms and laws of the sea, while winning the understanding of Micronesians for Japan’s maritime policies. Foreign assistance is to be used in the struggle with China over the South Pacific as well as the Indian Ocean.

Lest one think that the Japan-South Korea battle in North America over “comfort women” has faded, April 2 articles in Sankei Shimbun should not be overlooked. One describes how Koreans are using sister-city relationships to propose constructing memorials to the women, citing the case of Burnaby, which already has a memorial in honor of those who died in the Korean War. Japanese, meanwhile, are rallying opponents to sign a petition and involving its own sister-city to object. This article continues the Sankei series on the “history war.” The second article points to the struggle under way in a California city over the same issue, depicting Japan’s actions as the “Asian holocaust.” It argues that persons of Chinese descent are involved, fully in support of the Korean side. This Sino-Korean anti-Japan link-up is jumping from the United States to Canada, Sankei concludes without paying notice to how Japan’s handling of the “comfort women” issue is contributing to this problem and offering no other solution but to intensify the “history war” against Japan’s two Asian critics. Dismissing Park Geun-hye’s March 1 speech for constructing a mature partnership between South Korea and Japan because it held as a precondition a new Japanese attitude toward history, Sankei on March 3 disagreed with her that Japan and South Korea share the same values, equated her speech with that of communist dictator Xi Jinping, and blamed her stubbornness for preventing Japan and South Korea from working together for East Asian security. The entire fault lies with Seoul, it concludes, as if Japan can take any position it wants on history, but Seoul has to focus on security.

A Yomiuri Shimbun article of March 22 explains that in pressuring South Korea more, China is challenging the US leadership of Asia’s economic and security order. Thus, South Korea is the object of a tug-of-war, as China strives to split the US-Japan-ROK framework with the United States losing ground on AIIB and delaying on a THAAD deployment request. Whereas for Sankei, South Korea seems hopelessly to be on the side of China, given its obsession with the “comfort women,” for Yomiuri, Seoul is on the front line in the struggle over the regional order beyond ongoing history issues. A Yomiuri Shimbun article on February 17 regrets that experts in both countries who are knowledgeable about the other country have been branded in recent domestic ideological debates as sympathizers, leading others to avoid Korea studies or Japan studies. The result is that more objective opinions are not being heard. The article appeals in this fiftieth anniversary year for both sides soberly to recognize the other’s importance and avoid policies based on misperceptions. This calls for joint efforts.

A Yomiuri Shimbun article on March 24 linked the sharp drop in Japanese tourists to South Korea (two-thirds of its peak in 2012) to the cooling in relations, while also interpreting the continued rise of Korean tourists to Japan (now more than the total of Japanese tourists and above its 2007 peak). The drop includes high school students on study trips, where if just one parent objects, the destination is changed. In contrast, the rise in Korean travelers reflects the cheap yen. While the “Korean boom” has faded, causing some sites that had banked on it to fold, efforts to boost Tokyo as a travel destination in advance of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have begun.

The three-way foreign ministers’ meeting in Seoul on March 21 drew close attention in the media. For Sankei Shimbun, this produced a standoff between China and Japan with China playing the “history card” with warnings about Abe’s speech to mark the seventieth anniversary and Japan appealing to focus on the future, while the Sino-South Korean bilateral meeting also raised the history issue. Prospects appeared grim for a three-way summit. In Kuroda Katsuhiro’s article that day, Sankei complained about the obsession with Japan that makes it the most despised country in South Korea and the perverse attention being given to Abe’s forthcoming speech before the US Congress. Failing to recognize that South Korea shares liberal democratic values with Japan, it assumes that Seoul just complains. Yomiuri Shimbun on that day had a more mixed response, recognizing strengthened cooperation in areas such as counter-terror activities, the environment, and resumption of security talks with South Korea as well as the expansion of exchanges with China, but regretted that China’s Wang Yi kept his distance from Foreign Minister Kishida in photos and spent half of the time in their bilateral session on history. The article focuses on China as the problem, but it also points to South Korea joining with it on history, and urges Abe in speeches to the international community over the coming months to counter these critiques.

The battle over the word “aggression” is heated within the 16-person advisory group appointed by Abe and in the media tracking what members of this group are saying. When Kitaoka Shinichi, who is drawing media attention for guiding the committee, expressed his desire for Abe to acknowledge that Japan had committed aggression (99 percent of Japanese historical researchers agree, he observed) as quoted in Asahi Shimbun on March 10, the May issue of Seiron carried an article rejecting his view. It divided Japan’s actions into four distinct wars (China, the United States, Southeast Asia, and the Soviet Union), arguing separately why each war does not warrant being called aggression. The argument focuses on China of that time as unstable, inviting a tug-of-war, in which the United States and Great Britain sought to weaken Japan, as did the Soviet Union, as Chiang Kai-Shek shifted to isolating Japan with the capitalist states behind him, while the Chinese communists worked with the Comintern, which meant that Chinese nationalism was turning against Japan. Twisting world history to justify Japan’s behavior as if it were behaving as a normal power, Ogawa Ryutaro makes a more detailed case than usual for why not to label Japan an aggressor. He is not alone. On March 17, Hasegawa Michiko attacked Kitaoka’s distorted view of history in Sankei’s Seiron. In contrast, Yomiuri Shimbun on February 13 noted that all political parties were asked to have an input in the seventieth anniversary statement and on March 14 noted Kitaoka’s comments in the context of the fiftieth and sixtieth anniversary statements, reporting that changing the wording now could be misunderstood and Japan could become isolated. It defended Kitaoka’s caution.

>Asahi Shimbun on March 10 made it clear that Kitaoka was conveying Abe’s wishes, and on March 14, just after the second meeting of the advisory group, it reported that in the aftermath of the 90-minute, closed meeting, Kitaoka had repeated this message. Yet, it found that some of the language of the Murayama Statement about colonial rule and invasion was absent. Only after the fifth session in July will the upshot of these discussions be clear, as the committee sums up its advice, Asahi observed, still worrying that the degree of continuity would not be sufficient.

After the third (two day) meeting of the advisory group on April 3, Yomiuri Shimbun carried an article on Japan’s contributions to peace since the postwar era, noting that Okamoto Yukio and Tanaka Akihiko explained the basic thinking of Japan to the group. They had stressed maintaining peace using the US alliance as Japan’s axis and contributing to the peace and prosperity of international society through ODA and in other ways. Kitaoka responded, noting that although Japan’s ODA contributions had been appreciated, they were not enough. The article noted that this subject is one of five on the committee’s agenda, finding little to fault with progress to date.

Yomiuri Shimbun on February 19 explained the importance of Abe going to the United States and achieving shared consciousness on the seventieth anniversary with emphasis on contributions to peace prior to the August 15 statement, which China, South Korea, and others will be following closely. Strengthening the alliance and contributing to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and the world links Japan closely with the United States, apparently inoculating it to some degree from attack, as Abe considers tinkering with language that, on the whole, adheres to the Murayama and Koizumi anniversary statements but may deviate in some wording. One gets the impression that the tighter the US embrace of Abe, the more scope he may have to drop sensitive terms, but the article omits US reluctance to abet such omissions, especially due to the impact on Japan-South Korean relations. Indeed, memory of how Obama in April 2014 met with Park Geun-hye after visiting Abe and spoke in a manner that could have been construed as rebuking Abe on the “comfort women” issue may resonate this spring, as Park follows Abe to Washington. On February 26, Yomiuri pointed to below the surface US gaiatsu (foreign pressure) to curtail such omissions as well as Park Geun-hye’s request to a visiting LDP official not to retreat from the historical consciousness included in the earlier statements.

In in early April, Watanabe Tsuneo scrutinized the media of Europe and the United States for their coverage of historical consciousness in Japan, blaming them for interfering with Sino-Japanese reconciliation as they disregard Japan’s posture toward China and other states and only report on the remarks of some conservatives, while the Chinese continuously broadcast anti-Japan dramas fanning the anti-Japan nationalism of the Chinese people. There is no balanced discussion in international society, Watanabe argues. Japan is not challenging today’s world order. By focusing on criticism of Abe’s revisionism, media are playing into the hands of China, which is posing the real threat to today’s order. Blaming US media and US pressure has become widespread on the right.

As dialogue between China and Japan expanded in the months after the Xi-Abe meeting, Sankei warned that the aim was to contain Japan in expressing its historical thinking in evident concern that Abe is agreeing to such restraint, as he puts the focus on seeking understanding that Japan has become a peaceful state. This March 25 article charges that China’s “history war” is proceeding without real change. That same day, Yomiuri took a more favorable view of the parliamentary exchange and renewed effort to keep historical consciousness from damaging bilateral relations as a whole, praising these constructive discussions as useful in improving relations and forging trust. While there was a drumbeat of criticism in Sankei on China’s containment aimed at the language in the seventieth anniversary statement, Asahi reported on March 16 without criticism China’s concern about what Abe would say and the shared desire for improving relations.

Shimotomai Nobuo in the April issue of Toa examined Russia’s relations with North Korea, saying that some call them a “little Renaissance,” while suggesting that Putin has in mind a plan for reconciliation between North and South Korea, conditioning it on the North not testing another nuclear weapon. Shimotomai traces meetings between Russian and DPRK officials since the March 2014 Ukraine crisis and the DPRK’s declaration of its opposition to the UN resolution against Russia’s annexation of Crimea. These followed Kim Young-nam attending the Sochi Olympics in February and meeting with Putin and the ongoing moves to erase USD 11 billion in North Korean debts to Russia and to link the Rajin port by ship and rail. Announcements had also been made about using the ruble to settle accounts and tripling trade to USD 450 million and in 2020 to reach USD 1 billion as talks proceeded on visa-free travel between North Korea and the Russian Far East. Cross-border trade jumped 61 percent in 2013, and overall trade is expected to rise similarly to USD 300 million in 2015, with agricultural cooperation a major theme. Russia put the blame on the United States for using human rights in North Korea as a pretext for its interference, it was noted. More than ideology, Putin’s approach is based on striving for a balance in ties to North and South Korea, as part of his “Asia shift,” concludes Shimotomai, who also stresses its anti-US motives and the welcome it is giving to authoritarian partners.

In an interview about his December 2014 book on Putin’s turn toward Asia, Shimotomai uses the phrase “leave Europe, enter Asia,” while drawing conclusions on Putin’s views such as: Russia is a pole in a multipolar world; the states of the CIS formed from the Soviet Union are of prime importance; Russia’s economic diplomacy centers on energy; and even that Russia is turning into an Asian country. Called “northern Saudi Arabia,” Russia seeks energy markets in Northeast Asia, Shimotomai asserts, and it stresses development of its Far East and Siberia, where its resources are concentrated. This leads to his conclusion that with both Russia and the United States pivoting towards Asia, Japan and other Asian countries do not need to choose between them. Japan can strengthen ties with Russia while sustaining the US alliance, he insisted in Synodos on April 8, 2015.

Since 1992, Japan has paid for visa-free travel by boat between the islands it calls the Northern Territories and Hokkaido, resulting in about 21,000 trips by Japanese and 9,000 by Russians with the goal of forging an environment conducive to resolving the territorial dispute. Nagoshi Kenro in the March edition of Will calls for reconsidering this. Reviewing local Russian newspapers from the islands, he discusses the impact of the socio-economic development program for the Kurile Islands from 2007 to 2015 with plans to extend it to 2025, the fact that the population there has unexpectedly grown (now over 16,000, in contrast to the overall decline in the Sakhalin oblast population), the critical role of processing marine products, the role of 700 foreign laborers (mostly from China, North Korea, and Central Asia), and problems such as a deteriorating stock of housing and environmental damage. Even expecting budget shortfalls, given Russia’s new financial straits, Nagoshi finds no sign that conditions will lead Russia to consider turning over the islands, as it continues to fund infrastructure until 2025.

Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s March 11 visit to Ukraine, endorsing the incorporation of it by Russia as the democratic will of the Crimean people who voted in a referendum, drew condemnation in Japan even as it was widely heralded in the Russian mass media. On March 18 in Sankei’s Seiron, Hakamada Shigeki equated what had happened to Ukraine to Russia’s assertion of sovereignty and annexation of Japan’s four islands in 1945, arguing that Japan more than any other G7 country has the right and responsibility to criticize Russian encroachment on another state. He reminded readers that, in 2005, Putin for the first time stressed that the islands belonged to Russia as a result of World War II and because militarist Japan was allied with Nazi Germany it also had victimized the Soviet Union. Insisting that revisionist history by Russia cannot be overlooked in Japan’s newspaper most obsessed with revisionist Japanese history, Hakamada reasserts the widespread claim that Japan’s neutrality pact with the USSR was separate from the overall war and was met with unprovoked expansionism. He also faults the Abe administration for its pursuit of Putin, sending former Prime Minister Mori to deliver a letter to Putin with views opposite to those of Europe and the United States. In this way, Hakamada mixes realist and revisionist themes together. The divide with the West also was noted in the March 29 Yomiuri Shimbun, which noted that Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the State Duma, had been invited to Japan in May despite being banned from European countries and the United States as part of the sanctions. It leaves rather uncertain whether Abe and other officials will meet with him, but by raising no objections to the visit, it appears to endorse further enticements to Russia.

On March 30, Sankei Shimbun reported that Abe would not be accepting Putin’s invitation to attend the seventieth anniversary ceremonies on May 9 in Moscow. (This preceded the announcement two weeks later that Park Geun-hye also would not be going). The article noted that leaders in the West are also not attending, in contrast to the sixtieth anniversary when Koizumi joined Bush, Gerhard Schroeder, and others, as well as Hu Jintao, in attendance. The article ends by listing Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un as attendees, implying a narrow gathering in a polarized world, while explicitly citing the illegal occupation of the Northern Territories as a concern that stands in the way of attendance. Others who held out hope for a deal on the islands worried, in contrast, that Abe’s absence scuttles prospects for Putin to go to Japan this year.

China’s position on Crimea a year after Russia’s annexation continues to spark interest. Tokyo Shimbun on March 21 described Xi Jinping’s offer at the end of March 2014 to play a mediating role between Putin and Obama as motivated not by a desire to protect Russia but to defend China’s own rights on the Crimean peninsula, which included a plan to develop its largest farm area outside China. Seizing advantage of a weak Russia and promising to remain neutral on Ukrainian questions, Xi in May extracted from Putin a very favorable deal on a natural gas pipeline and later pressed for a high-speed railway through Russia and rights over oilfields in Eastern Siberia. Without involving big state firms, China quietly agreed to construct a bridge for trains and cars across the strait separating Russia and Crimea by the end of 2018. Crimea is a critical juncture in the “Silk Road Economic Belt,” the article explains. It sees Russia’s isolation with the danger of a “new Cold War” due to Putin’s hardline stance as complicating Xi’s plans, even as he strives to secure rights from Russia to further these plans. Other Japanese sources at both ends of the political spectrum conclude that Russia’s situation since its Crimean offensive has facilitated Xi’s plans for an economic belt, with Crimea still playing a large role.