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May 7, 2009: Dr. Yoshifumi Nakai and Mr. Shinji Hyodo

(Click to Enlarge) From left to right - Mr. Shinji Hyodo and Dr. Yoshifumi Nakai discuss the changing roles of China and Russia in Northeast Asia

China and Russia in Northeast Asia: Changing Strategies



(Washington D.C.) May 7– Since the end of the Cold War, Russia and China have seen a shift in their power and influence in East Asia and the world, with China’s star rising and Russia’s declining but still remaining influential. In an East-West Center in Washington Asia-Pacific Security Seminar co-sponsored by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA, Professor Yoshifumi Nakai of Gakushuin University in Tokyo and Mr. Shinji Hyodo of the National Institute for Defense Studies in Tokyo described the changing strategies of Russia and China in Asia.

China is generally described as being on the rise in Asia and the world, exemplified by its quickly growing economy and active diplomatic efforts since the 1980s. China has also invested heavily in its military, significantly increasing its defense budgets and making improvements to its land and naval forces. Dr. Nakai explained that Japan has watched China’s rise quite carefully, taking advantage of the growing trade opportunities that China’s economic growth offers, yet remaining concerned about the growth of its navy.

Despite China’s continued growth into an economic and diplomatic power, Dr. Nakai noted that China will have to address many challenges as it continues to develop. He explained that the most pressing challenge is the global financial crisis, noting that the legitimacy of the Chinese government rests heavily on the country’s economic well-being. If the economy in China continues to worsen, the Chinese government may face social unrest. In addition, he argued that China will need to learn to better balance its interests with those of other countries and become a more involved stakeholder in international concerns if it wishes to be considered an influential player on the international stage. China should continue its engagement in regional concerns such as economic regionalism, the North Korean nuclear situation, and environmental issues.

While China’s influence in East Asia and the world has been steadily increasing since the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Soviet Union brought about a drop in Russian influence. However, Mr. Hyodo noted that Russia is beginning to turn its attention towards Asia, and is increasingly regarded as an independent strategic actor in regional security matters. He explained that the Georgian conflict intensified East Asian perceptions that Russia is a troublemaker in the region, one that is little interested in garnering international support for its actions. Russia, on the other hand, continues to be concerned with the U.S. presence in Asia, and Mr. Hyodo believes that Russia’s support for an East Asian security framework is in part motivated by a desire to decrease U.S. influence in the region.

Despite the concerns that regional countries might have for Russia’s security goals, Russia’s cooperation with Japan and South Korea in other areas, such as energy and trade, have been steadily increasing. Mr. Hyodo explained that Japan began this year to import energy from Russia’s Sakhalin island, accounting now for 7.5% of Japan’s energy imports. There has also been progress on civilian nuclear power cooperation between Russia and Japan. Mr. Hyodo explained that though policymakers in Japan are still concerned about Russia’s military activities, they hope that increased cooperation in the energy sector will facilitate better relations, leading to more fruitful negotiations on other areas, such as the disputed territories that lie to the north of Japan’s main islands. Russia’s relations with China, however, have declined as interaction with Japan and South Korea has increased. Mr. Hyodo noted that in the past, China imported significant arms and energy resources from Russia, but arms trade in particular between the two countries has sharply dropped in the past few years.

Despite changes in the relative influence that China and Russia wield in East Asia, it is clear that both powers continue to be active players in the region, shaping the security and diplomatic relationships of their neighbors. As Mr. Hyodo explained, regional powers such as the United States and Japan should continue to engage with both countries while also carefully examining their intentions for the East Asian region.

Yoshifumi Nakai has been teaching Chinese politics and international relations at the Department of Political Studies at Gakushuin University in Tokyo, Japan since 2003. From 1997 to 2003, he was senior researcher in Area Studies Department I at the Institute of Developing Economies. In 2000, Dr. Nakai spent an academic year at the Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University and in 2001 he was a visiting scholar at the Research Center for Contemporary China of Beijing University. Dr. Nakai was researcher at the Consulate General of Japan in Hong Kong (1991-1994), and senior researcher at the Center for Asia-Pacific Affairs at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (1994-1997). His recent publications include  “The Undercurrents in the Chinese-Japanese Relations,” International Journal of Korean Unification Studies (2005) Vol. 13, No. 2, pp. 1-22; and “Japan’s Views on the Rise of China and its Implications: Bureaucratic Interests and Political Choices,” in Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao and Cheng-Yi Lin eds., Rise of China: Beijing’s Strategies and Implications for the Asia-Pacific. Routledge: New York, 2008.

Shinji Hyodo is a senior research fellow at the National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS), a security policy think tank of the Japanese Ministry of Defense, and teaches at Sophia University (Tokyo) as part-time lecturer on Russian area studies. His specialty is Russian area studies (politics, foreign affairs, and security issues) in terms of East Asian security. He has worked as a special researcher for the political section of the Embassy of Japan in Moscow from 1996 to 1998 and as a cabinet secretariat member in National Security Council of the Koizumi Cabinet from 2001 to 2003. He was a visiting fellow of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London in 2007. Mr. Hyodo’s publications include The future of the multiethnic federal state Russia , Toyo book 2003, and a Russian chapter of the strategic annual report, East Asian Strategic Review , NIDS since 2003. His recent articles include “Future of Russian State as Viewed from the Federal System”, NIDS Security Reports , March 2001; East Asian Strategic Review NIDS from 2003; and “Three Factors Supporting Russia’s Assertive Diplomacy “, NIDS Briefing Memo, February 2009.

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