Russian President Vladimir Putin and President-elect Dmitry Medvedev met with a sad guest. The ratings of Fukuda's seven-month-old cabinet are 25% and the LDP's key role in politics has again come under threat. In such situations, heads of government go abroad in order to enhance their prestige at home. What did Fukuda achieve during his trip to Russia?
There was no progress on the territorial dispute - it will indefinitely remain a routine paragraph in all communiques. The leaders have now "agreed to continue high-level talks with a view to signing a peace treaty" (Japan's version). Or, "the territorial issue has not been discussed in detail; it has not acquired any new aspects" (Russia's version).
A major investment project - prospecting for hydrocarbons in the Irkutsk Region - is not Fukuda's gain. It was agreed upon earlier. Sharing stock fifty-fifty, the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) and the Irkutsk Oil Company are planning to discover oil to be pumped into the Eastern Siberia -Pacific Ocean pipeline, which is now under construction. This is one of many examples of sensible bilateral cooperation. The two countries are close economic partners.
Formally, Fukuda went to Moscow to meet President-elect Dmitry Medvedev, who is going to attend the next G8 summit on Hokkaido. The sides announced their intention to conduct a top level bilateral meeting. Their detailed discussion of the summit's key issues - the environment, climate change, and global food shortages - was very useful. For Japan, it was a dress rehearsal before the summit. The Japanese public will welcome Fukuda's success in holding it.
The sides also discussed a relatively new subject - their cooperation at six-lateral talks in Beijing on North Korea's nuclear problem. This is an interesting subject. Out of all participants (the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia, and Japan), Tokyo's role is the most unclear. Japanese diplomats consistently tried to complicate the talks with irrelevant bilateral issues, such as the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korean secret services in the 1970s and the 1980s. These domestically populist actions concealed a more serious problem - Japan's international isolation, reaching out to its own borders. Japan was not needed at the talks on North Korea, its closest neighbor.
The talks have produced many spin-offs for their participants. The Japanese press recalled Sino-American rapprochement owing to Beijing's skillful mediation at the talks, which have been held for more than four years.
However, Japan has not gained much, and may now be left outside the negotiating process - the advent of the pro-American president to power in South Korea may suspend the talks for a long time, if not forever. Moreover, fearful of failure, Pyongyang may come to terms with Washington at the last minute, and there will be nothing left to discuss. Japan's security will be higher, but its government will not receive credit for this.
If Pyongyang is too late, the talks will be thwarted by neo-conservatives that have become more active in Washington. They may charge North Korea with selling nuclear technologies to Syria. However, if enough countries wish to stop all squabbles, they have a chance to succeed.
It was interesting to read in the reports on Fukuda's trip that the two leaders "discussed North Korea's nuclear program, in particular, suspicion of Syria's involvement in it," and agreed to continue cooperation at the six-lateral talks. At the same time, Fukuda asked the Russian leaders to compel North Korea to reveal information about Japan's abducted citizens. Without this information, Tokyo is refusing to supply North Korea with energy -- a commitment, which it assumed at the talks. This is also a subject for discussion.
Russia cannot magically guarantee Japan's befitting role in Asian policy. Much here depends on the United States, China and Japan itself. However, this trip was a good demonstration of Japan's attitude - it admitted it had problems in Asia and Russia, another Asian power, could help it.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.