Regional Cooperation in Northeast Asia: new opportunities for the Russian Arctic

(By Henning Simonsen ; INSROP Working Paper No. 58 – 1996, IV.2.3)


This working paper examines the political perceptions and relations between Russia and its neighboring states in Northeast Asia to see in what way these perceptions and relations provide a stumbling block to regional cooperation in the region, with a special view to the Russian Arctic and the Northern Sea Route. The concepts of region, security complex and perception are used as analytical tools. Russia's relationships with Japan, China and the Koreas are analysed, as well as the domestic Russian arena as related to the Russian Far East (RFE).

The two major obstacles to regional cooperation between Russia and its Asian neighboring states in Northeast Asia were identified as being:

  • The relationship between the Russian Far East and Moscow, and
  • The relationship between Russia and Japan.

Despite the much-acclaimed potential of the Russian Far East as a vast source of natural resources for the whole country, the development of the RFE in the Soviet era was slow due to the extreme distances from the urban centres in European Russia, the harsh physical environment and the lack of infrastructure. The present situation with the Russian economy struggling to adjust to a market situation both domestically and internationally has not improved the situation for the RFE. The perception in the RFE is that Moscow does not consider the interests of the RFE very highly. The inhabitants and leaders of the RFE are therefore to a much larger degree than Moscow looking to their immediate Asian neighbors as partners in their future development. Trade is blossoming, but traditional cultural and threat perceptions act as obstacles to increased investment by Japanese and South Korean capital in Russian natural resource extraction projects.

In the relationship between Russia and Japan the 51-year-old issue of the Northern Territories/Kurile Islands plays the role of "wet blanket". Experts hold that the conflict over the disputed islands north of Hokkaido is not any nearer to being solved than it was during the Soviet period. Japanese perceptions of Russia are not only influenced by the Northern Territories/Kurile Islands issue. There is a general feeling in Japan that the Russian business environment is unstable and not to be trusted. In addition, the holding of Japanese POW's in prison camps for several years after 1945 still colours Japanese perceptions of Russians. The still-powerful Russian Pacific Fleet is still regarded by Japan as a military threat. Russian perceptions of the Japanese in for example business relations is that they are unnecessarily formalistic and long-winded. The Kurile Islands issue coupled with the rise of nationalist sentiment has influenced the younger generation of Russians to view Japan somewhat negatively.

Despite the view of this working paper that closer cooperation and relations between Russia and its neighbors in Asia is happening slowly, time will lead to closer relationships which again will affect the Russian Arctic and its transport infrastructure, including the Northern Sea Route.


    Henning Simonsen, 1996, Regional Cooperation in Northeast Asia: new opportunities for the Russian Arctic, INSROP.©