[Letters] Lessons from Japan and Russia

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[Letters] Lessons from Japan and Russia

Russia’s land mass is about 40 times larger than Japan’s. Still, the two states both complement each other in many ways. Albeit following different systems of administration and governance, both Japan and Russia have accomplished a lot during the post-World War period. Still, there remains much for both states to learn.

The first lesson pertains to foreign policy. Ever since the beginning of the Soviet Union, Moscow’s foreign policy has been by and large independent. Even though the Soviet economy was less integrated with the world, it managed to follow an independent foreign policy without bowing down to any external pressure. Glasnost and Perestroika symbolized distinct Soviet policy measures instead of being dictated by a foreign power. Even after the breakup of the USSR, Russia continues to chart an independent course of action, as much as possible.

In contrast, since the end of World War II, Japan’s foreign policy has been dictated by the U.S. to a great extent. Though the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won the last elections on the platform of pursuing an “independent” foreign policy and “equal” alliance with the U.S., little has changed since then. There is little reason that the world’s third-largest economy (second-largest until recently) should rely on another country for its relations with the world. Here, Japan can learn from Russia, which notwithstanding a modest level of economic development, is audacious enough to assert itself on the global stage.

Both Japan and Russia have made giant leaps forward in the field of science and technology. Russia has been a leader in space exploration, aviation, military equipment and nuclear-energy technologies. Russian contributions to the world include the world’s first space station Mir and the most consistent, safest and presently only functional spaceship Soyuz. On the other hand, Japan has emerged as the undisputed global leader in high-tech semiconductor and automobile industries, with reputed brands like Sony, Toshiba, Honda and Toyota serving as the country’s soft power across the world.

Another major lesson that Russia can and should learn from Japan is the efficient utilization of resources. Japan barely has any mineral resources in its territory. It imports almost every raw material to feed its industries, and exports finished consumer and capital goods, thus making substantial profits. In contrast, the Russian economy is largely dependent on the export of raw materials and hydrocarbons.

The population size of both countries is similar, and declining numbers are another major problem which ties both nations together. Moscow has made some efforts in this regard and has witnessed an increase in birthrates whereas Tokyo’s efforts have yet to show any sign of a revival. Part of the solution to this problem lies in opening the national borders for immigrants (skilled and semiskilled) from third world countries. Russia has lately undertaken some steps to ease immigration restrictions, thus paving the way for the arrival of talent. Japan, probably the most conservative country in terms of immigration policy, has so far kept its borders shut to outsiders. The Japanese government needs to understand that apart from reversing the decline in population, immigration will bring in new talent that will help sustain its role as an economic and technological powerhouse.

One thing is clear: The future of these maritime neighbors lies in cooperation and coordination, not conflict. While Russia can become a major supplier of raw materials for Japanese industry, Japan can be a major source of technical know-how for the modernisation of Russian industries.

Sameer Jafri, a freelancer and political analyst based in India
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