Thinking The Unthinkable: Can Japan Bring Russia Back to the G7?
For Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, 2016 is a special year. As the chairman of the G7 summit, he aims to showcase Japan’s global leadership. The prime minister’s diplomatic zest is well-known and largely fueled by his “Abe Doctrine.” This doctrine promotes an ambitious, multi-vector foreign policy that has made him the most traveled Japanese leader in history. In just three years, Prime Minister Abe has visited more than 63 countries and held more than 400 summits.
Yet the one legacy item Abe seems most intent on securing will not be available to him at the G7: Russo–Japanese rapprochement. This overshadows all aspects of the prime minister’s remaining foreign policy energy. Russia has a long running territorial dispute with Japan over the Kuril Islands and has never officially signed a peace treaty ending World War II which Abe would like to rectify after over 70 years. But Russia is also at odds with the West over Ukraine (which got Russia booted from what was the G8) and Syria. As such, rapprochement with Russia is an increasingly controversial proposition for a staunch U.S. ally. Nonetheless, despite concerns in Washington, Tokyo’s enthusiasm for overtures with Moscow is actually nothing new and has reinvigorated the two countries’ high-level interactions in recent months.
Abe sees an opportunity to be the only G7 leader capable of maintaining friendly channels with Putin. Indeed, Abe virtually has carte blanche over the direction of the conference as his G7 chairmanship offers considerable authority regarding membership and agenda setting. However, inviting Putin to the G7 summit does not seem to be in the cards given the state of international affairs. Yet this has not dampened Abe’s ambitions to bring Putin back in from the cold to the G7. Abe has announced an “unofficial” summit with Putin this coming May in Sochi. The optics, symbolism, and timing of this visit are significant. The summit will be held shortly before the G7 summit on the idyllic Kashiko Island. And it may be quickly followed by a visit by Putin to Tokyo right after the G7 given Abe’s deep desire to serve as a bridge for Russia’s re-entry to the international community.
Photo credit: AP, Mikhail Klimentyev