Bolstering India-Japan partnership in Russian Far East
Don McLain Gill
On July 20, Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla stated that India and Japan are willing to enhance cooperation through investments and joint projects in third countries, including the strategically located and resource-rich Russian Far East.Moreover, he outlined the deepening multidimensional partnership between India and Japan has the “potential to shape a multipolar world that is more peaceful, secure and sustainable.”
India and Japan are major Asian powers that seek to maintain the stability, peace, and order of the continent. Aside from their political clout and military capabilities, both countries possess significantly large economies. Russia can benefit from this by bolstering its partnership with India and Japan as it seeks to improve the political-economic environment in its Far East region.
The Russian Far East constitutes more than one-third of the country’s total territory. It is also abundant in natural resources and is critical to preserving highly important Asian trade routes. However, despite its geopolitical and economic importance, the Russian Far East continues to face underdevelopment, which has been a point of concern for Moscow.
The region’s history of socio-political issues coupled with economic constraints serves as a challenge for Moscow’s interests to maintain the stability, unity, and peace throughout the country. Accordingly, these factors have prompted the Russian government to spearhead policies to prioritize the development of the Far East in 2006.
A major milestone toward the growth profile of the Far East was reached a few years later through the government’s “Pivot to the East” strategy, which encompassed a series of initiatives for the development of the region. The Far East was to act as a link between businesses in Russian mega-regions and companies in East and South Asia.
Furthermore, the strategy also aimed to increase investments in the Far East to enhance economic activity and growth. However, the situation in Ukraine that erupted in 2014 led to attempts from the United States and the European Union to isolate and impose sanctions of Russia. These circumstances added more impetus to Russia’s pivot to Asia. Furthermore, the role of the Far East became more emphasized.
However, as Russia pivots to Asia, it is faced with a worrying new reality in its Far East – China’s economic and military rise and its proximity to the region. The population of the Far East is only a little over 6 million. Moreover, the population in the region is on a downward trend due to low birth rates and migration to other parts of Russia.
This phenomenon is being exacerbated by the influx of Chinese migrants in the area. Furthermore, the large empty spaces in the Far East have been increasingly utilized by Chinese businesses. This reality may greatly affect Russia’s security perception in the long term.
Despite being strategic partners, the level of mistrust due to a complex history and China’s increasing footprints in traditional Russian spheres of influence have warranted evaluation. Accordingly, Moscow has further pushed for the diversification of partners in its Far East as it worries about a demographic and economic imbalance in the region.
India and Japan have continuously collaborated on a variety of infrastructural, investment, and security projects throughout Asia and beyond. Both major democracies have highlighted the need for transparency, peace, and development in every joint project that they have undertaken. In recent years, the Russian Far East has become a significant area for cooperation between the two countries.
Don McLain Gill is a resident fellow at the Manila-based International Development and Security Cooperation (IDSC) and the director for South Asia and Southeast Asia at the Philippine-Middle East Studies Association (PMESA). He is also a geopolitical analyst and an author