, October 27, 2021

China-Russia Alliance – Lessons from Japan’s Failed “Detachment” Strategy

Donat Sorokin/TASS via REUTERS/Scanpix
Donat Sorokin/TASS via REUTERS/Scanpix
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seen in the background, during a session of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia September 12, 2018.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seen in the background, during a session of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia September 12, 2018.

After the Ukraine crisis, Moscow has learnt that narratives on a potent “China-Russia alliance” can be weaponised to influence the decision-making of its targets and leverage concessions from countries alarmed by China’s rise. Thus, this narrative has been often purposefully advanced by Vladimir Putin and instrumentalised by agents of influence, such as those of the Valdai Discussion Club, as a pretext to return to “business as usual” with Moscow.

In Japan, whose major security concern continued to revolve around China’s assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region, a cohort of former pro-Russian diplomats and active members of the Valdai Discussion Club orchestrated an array of narratives portraying “a China-Russia alliance” as a nightmare for both Japan and the United States. They attempted to persuade Tokyo to strengthen relations with Russia, despite the G7 sanctions, only to keep Moscow away from Beijing.

However, the inherent aspirations of these experts to see stronger ties with Moscow, thus colouring all their thinking, appear to precede their analysis of Russo-China relations. Notably, Japanese sinologists remained sceptical about the prospect of a robust China-Russia alliance or questioned the wisdom of driving a wedge between the two countries.

Nevertheless, this sort of prescriptive “analysis” seems to have imbued Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (2012-20), who, following in the footsteps of his father, was determined to solve the problem of the “Northern Territories” – a major legacy issue in bilateral relations with Moscow — and the conclusion of a peace treaty after the World War II. Thus, the Abe administration utilised the strategy of detaching Russia from China as a pretext to improve relations with Russia.

How this “strategy” ended up – not only failing to delink Russia from China but also forcing Tokyo to take a series of overly “friendly” steps toward Moscow such as appointing an unprecedented “Minister for Economic Cooperation with Russia” – will give lessons to European policy makers whose local political myth about Moscow, such as Germany’s new Ostpolitik, and imaginations about Sino-Russia relations are reminiscent of Japanese prime minister’s rhetoric.

Is a “China-Russia alliance” a nightmare for the European Union and the United States and should there be an attempt to detach Russia from China?

Download and read the analysis by Sanshiro Hosaka: China-Russia “Alliance” – Lessons from Japan’s Failed “Detachment” Strategy