Report on the 1st ABSj Seminar, 27 November 2016

The newly-created Association for Borderlands Studies Japan Chapter held the first of its seminars in Tokyo, on a somewhat wet Sunday afternoon, in late-November 2016. The seminar consisted of two sessions, and was introduced by the current head of the Chapter, Professor Naomi Chi of the School of Public Policy at Hokkaido University. Professor Chi provided those in attendance with the background to the founding of the Japan Chapter and its relations with the main body of the Association for Borderlands Studies, which continues to seek to expand its scholarly remit. The Chapter’s role in this expansion was shown in the composition of this seminar, which sought to examine Border issues in Japan and the wider Asia-Pacific while appealing to a new audience for this form of scholarly analysis. In order to appeal to as great an audience as possible, the first session was held in English and dealt with Prospects and Challenges to Sino-Russian Relations, while the second was in Japanese and examined issues surrounding Border Control and Immigration Policy in Japan.


The prospects and challenges to the Sino-Russian relationship was examined through the lens of disputed territory through a paper by Marcin Kaczmarski (currently a visiting Professor at Hokkaido University) entitled “Sino-Russian Mutual Support in Territorial Disputes: the cases of Crimea and East and South China Seas”, which was discussed by Akihiro Iwashita and moderated by Edward Boyle, both of Kyushu University. Marcin began by explaining that his central question was to examine how Russia and China did (or did not) support one another in their respective territorial disputes, and how these issues serve to influence the relationship between the two countries. As he noted, this question is not one that has been much dealt with, having received no attention in the existing scholarly literature and with the connection being only infrequently made in official statements between the two parties. As he made clear, however, the shift in both countries attitudes towards their disputes is clearly discernible and has potentially serious implications for both their neighbours and the world as a whole. The question therefore seems to be whether these parallel processes are linked and how they influence on another.

Marcin began by highlighting the fact that the situation had shifted considerably since the 1990s, when these countries were offering mutual support for each other’s territorial integrity in the face of separatist concerns over Chechnya, Tibet and Taiwan. These references disappeared in the 2000s as both states came to feel secure enough to no longer talk about their sovereign borders as barring overseas intervention within their territory. Rather, both have shifted from defensive to offensive territorial issues, in which their generally understood borders are no longer accepted, and both have become states seeking to challenge and reinterpret international law in support of their claims, rather than invoke it in the face of challenges. In as far as both are therefore on a collision course with the West, the mutual support of each for the other may be expected to be a crucial ingredient in how these disputes are mobilized.


In looking in more detail at the disputes, though, it is difficult to find these structural factors reflected in each state’s policy towards the others’ disputes. China has been very reluctant to comment on Crimea, has abstained on rather than vetoed UNSC resolutions, and has clearly opposed both the violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and the invocation of a popular referendum as a justification for territorial revisionism. Russia has also stayed largely silent on China’s disputes, and appears to be uninvolved except to the extent that China’s actions accord nicely with its own suspicion of the United States and multilateral processes. While there have been, for example, recent military exercises by the two that focused on amphibious landings, mutual support over the territorial disputes themselves appears to be more driven by a shared anti-Americanism than any genuinely shared interest.

As Marcin pointed out, though, rather than this absence of open support for the other’s disputes as necessarily reflecting the weakness of the relationship between the two powers, at may rather indicate how much stronger it is today than in the early-1990s. Relations between the two are these days much more multidimensional, and thus less reliant on continued proclamations in support of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the other. In fact, he argued that expressions of open support would represent a qualitative shift in the relationship, and surmised that such a shift would first be visible in Russia’s behaviour now that they are the weaker half of the partnership.


This analysis was supported by Professor Iwashita in his commentary, where he highlighted the two-level nature of Sino-Russian cooperation. The first stage, that of mutual security guarantees, can be seen as absolutely essential to the relationship of the two states, and is a condition that has been met. The second stage can be characterized as foreign policy cooperation between the two states, which while valuable is not essential for their relationship. It is clear that the territorial issues with which China and Russia have recently been wrestling come under this second stage, in which support of the other is a bargaining chip opened to being cashed in exchange for alternative benefits. While this therefore reflects the shifting dynamics of foreign cooperation, as Marcin noted in his response, there are deeper structural issues that are serving to increase Russian dependence on China, which are being accelerated by Russia’s own attempt to ‘pivot’ towards the Pacific.

Time was then given for members of the audience to engage with the paper. Hiroshi Yamazoe of the National Institute for Defence Studies astutely commented on the differences between China’s slow shift in the direction of offensive capability, and thus a more aggressive territorial approach, versus Russian opportunism in its seizure of Crimea in 2014. Naomi Chi asked about the effects of the US election on the relationship, which Marcin pointed out was unlikely to be significant given the closeness between Russia and China visible even at the height of the previous ‘reset’. Masaki Kakizaki of Temple University wondered under what conditions China would change its position on Crimea and vice-versa, while this moderator asked about the significance of Russian ‘passportization’ and whether there was a distinction between sovereignty and territorial integrity in how these disputes were being mobilized by the two governments. Marcin’s paper certainly highlighted the transformation in both states’ stances towards their territorial disputes, while also clarifying the deeper structural factors that have brought their approaches into line and indeed suggest that continued cooperation may indeed ultimately result in the kind of qualitative shift in relations that was noted.

The topic of the second half of the seminar was border control and immigration policy in Japan. The session was moderated by Machiko Hachiya of Kyushu University, and we were fortunate enough to be granted an outline of the current situation from a practitioner, with Hiroshi Kimizuka, currently Director of the Adjudication Division at the Immigration Bureau, able to provide us with the lowdown on “Administration of Immigration Control in Japan”. From a comparative perspective, the extremely low proportion of foreign residents in Japan remains a source of fascination, even as the percentage of the foreign born population creeps slowly up towards 2%. The discussion within Japan remains steadfastly centred on the issue of the economy, and in particular how to bring in sufficient workers for the economy of a nation with a declining population, and it is through this lens that the categories of Japan’s current immigration system have been established. Based on a powerpoint distributed to all the participants, and making reference to a booklet produced by the Justice Ministry, the presentation naturally focussed on the question of how these pre-established categories are being implemented.


It was therefore the two commentators who provided a more holistic take on Japan’s policy. Professor Junichi Akashi of Tsukuba University also made note of the fact that immigration is largely discussed in relation to ‘Abenomics’, with any shift in policy focused on maximizing the human capital available to keep Japan, Inc. running. There remains little effort in Japan to make a positive case for immigration that goes beyond economics, and this is shown in the manner in which the immigration is dealt with as a political issue. The example offered by Professor Akashi was a diagram within the powerpoint presentation, which positioned the impact of the immigration system on a graph examining ‘humanitarian’ versus ‘economic or cultural’ issues. He noted that this interpretation of the effect the system has is far too narrow to account for its outcomes, both politically and in terms of securitization, for instance.


The other commentator, Naomi Chi, also made reference to the narrowness of the debate, pointing to the absence of positive images in the discussion of immigration, particularly by contrast to a country like Canada, for instance, where the homepage for the Immigration Authority’s website is filled with smiling images of people from a diverse array of backgrounds. In Japan, by contrast, specific information on foreigners tends to be offered in connection with crime and other illegal activities, and there is a lack of interest in questions like the position of stateless people in the country. As she noted, while many of her students appear to be motivated to join the Immigration authorities with the intention of facilitating the entry of more foreigners into Japan, it seems that once they join the Bureau, this motivation either disappears or is overlain with new, more practical, concerns. In response, Kimizuka highlighted that this gap between initial aims and day-to-day experience in the Bureau is indeed present for many of those who come to work there, but that the response was either to quit or to become inured to the discrepancy.

The difference between academic perspective on the work on immigration and their actual practice was in fact one of the main issues that emerged from the discussion. As Junichi Akashi had noted, when he had begun researching Japan’s immigration system, there was very little work being done, and all of it was essentially highly critical. There was therefore no relation between the work of those operating within the system and those studying it from the outside. The situation today is certainly better, as the system has slowly developed more stakeholders, like groups of lawyers or NGOs, while the bureaucrats themselves are more willing to engage with those from outside the system, as shown by the presence of one at a seminar like our own. Nevertheless, the gap highlighted, while certainly closing, is still very much in evidence, and does in a way reflect the depoliticized way with which questions of immigration are dealt with in Japan. As Kimizuka highlighted, this is also reflected in the frequency of foreigners being associated with crime, in that it appears to be a social problem with an obvious policy prescription (of tightening immigration and not letting them in in the first place). Japan is hardly the only country with a tendency to displace social problems onto those coming from outside its borders, but is exceptional in the way in which discussion remains so focused on the economy.

The ABSj was thus exceptionally fortunate for the opportunity provided by Hiroshi Kimizuka in coming along to talk to us, and hope that it is the beginning of a research project encompassing Japan’s border policies in an international perspective. The first steps towards this will begin next year, when the new Jean Monet grant awarded to the Borders in Globalization project begins, incorporating Japan, including several of the participants present at the ABSj seminar, as one of its points of comparison in a holistic examination of EU border policies. While Japan has long been an outlier in immigration policy, the trend internationally is clearly away from the move toward open borders and back towards more restrictive policies. This, together with an increasingly populist economic nationalism, appears to indicate that vast areas of the world previously held up as immigration exemplars for a restrictive Japan are now shifting towards a position on borders which resembles that held here, and which has long been subject to criticism from overseas. What the results of this shift will be, of course, remains to be seen, but it promises to be absolutely crucial to the definition of both domestic and foreign policies in the coming years.

It just remains for the ABSj to thank all of those who participated, and we look forward to continuing the conversation begun here long into the future.

                                                                                                     (Edward Boyle)

Report on the “Present and Future of Northeast Asia” Workshop at Seoul National University

On November 17, 2016 a seminar “Present and Future of North-East Asia: International Relations and Border Issues” was held in Seoul National University (SNU). The seminar was co-organised by the SNU’s Asia Research Center and the Center for Asia-Pacific Future Studies of Kyushu University. KUBS team members Akihiro Iwashita, Serghei Golunov, and Jong Seok Park took part in the event.

In his keynote speech, entitled “How Border Studies Can Reshape the International Relations: Korea-Japan Collaboration toward the New Era”, the head of the KUBS Team Akihiro Iwashita stressed the importance of new Border Studies approaches as alternative to a West-centric perspective. In particular, for the Asia-Pacific region, the recently emerged disputes over delimitation of maritime exclusive economic zones are of special importance. Apart from this, the presenter paid special attention to comparing the cases of the Japan-South Korea dispute over Takeshima/Dokdo islets and the Japan-Russia dispute over Southern Kuril and Habomai islands. He argued that in these cases, territorial claims are shaped to a great extent by various political concepts, some of which contribute to deteriorated relations between the respective countries.

At the same time, borders could be represented in a more cooperative way as sites of cooperative cross-border contacts. The presenter provided examples of Japanese Border Studies community’s efforts to contribute to strengthening positive representations of Japanese borders, such as 2012 Fukuoka-Busan BRIT XII Border Studies conference and Hokkaido-Sakhalin and Tshushima-Busan field research trips.

Bae Kyoon Park’s presentation “Comparative Observation on the Changes of Border Landscape: Yonpyoung Island and Kinmen Island” highlighted the cases of islands situated near the zones of past and present military conflicts: of Taiwanese island of Kinmen near the mainland China and of South Korean Yeonpyeong islands that lie near the disputed Northern Limit Line. The presenter argued that in these cases military threat led to reterritorialization, in other words to increased strategic importance of the islands’ territories. On the contrary, improved relations between Beijing and Taipei led to perceived deterritorialization and intensified cross-border relations between Kinmen and nearby mainland China’s territories. Now trajectories of the considered islands’ development are divergent: while Kinmen is increasingly oriented towards cross-border cooperation with the mainland China, Yeongpyeong islands still perceive North Korean military threat (this perception was reinforced by 2010 military clash) and pin their hopes with central governmental support.

Serghei Golunov’s presentation “Russia’s Cross-Border Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific: Towards a Coherent Policy?” discussed Russian efforts to make Russian cross-border cooperation with adjacent Pacific states (viz. with China, Mongolia, North Korea, Japan, and the USA) more effective. Initially, the presenter highlighted four globally distinctive patterns of cross-border cooperation policies: EU’s, North American, Chinese, and ASEAN’s. Though Russia tries to adopt some elements of the EU’s and Chinese models, because of the diversity of its borderlands, Moscow’s reluctance to give large power to regions, excessive bureaucracy, and the high level of corruption all serve to reduce the efficiency of both adopting these elements and of introducing some original cross-border cooperation policy. While considering the cross-border cooperation issues present at each of Russia’s individual Asia Pacific borders, the presenter highlighted issues like the prevalence of “Russia’s mineral resources for neighbor countries’ processed goods” trade pattern, Russian economic crisis, and weakness of regional economic potentials in Russia-Mongolia, Russia-North Korea, and Russia-USA borderlands. Russian hopes for the near future are primarily related to the establishment of priority development areas (a kind of free economic zones) in the Far East and increasing Chinese demands for Russian agricultural products.

Jong-Seok Park’s presentation on the “North Korean Nuclear Issue: Its Dynamics and Prospect” conceptualized the options of the key actors involved in the crisis: viz. of the USA, South Korea, China, and Japan. The North Korean decision to obtain nuclear weapons is represented as rational and serving the goal of survival. While the U.S., South Korean, and Japanese interests to achieve Pyongyang’s denuclearization look rather straightforward, the Chinese interests look less straightforward: Beijing also wants Pyongyang’s denuclearization but, at the same time, is interested in blocking the U.S. expansion and is not interested in North Korean destabilization. As South Korea and Japan have to rely on the U.S. military potential, the recent Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential elections can potentially have serious implications for the North Korean nuclear issue, as the possible U.S. military withdrawal from the region can prompt Japan and South Korea to obtain their own nuclear weapons to defend themselves. Some other scenarios, under which Japan and South Korea could be deprived of the U.S. nuclear shield were also analysed: in particular, North Korea can choose blackmailing the USA through nuclear proliferation or (in future) by threatening to strike the U.S. mainland in order to achieve the U.S. military withdrawal.

Ik Joong Youn’s presentation “The Development of Russo-North Korean Relations under Putin and Kim Jeong-Eun” analyzed recent trends in relations between Russia and North Korea after Kim Jong-un came to power and Vladimir Putin took the presidential office again in 2012. The presenter argued that Moscow and Pyongyang tried to move bilateral relations to a deeper level utilizing their adjacency. While some visible results (such as restoring the Khasan-Rajin railway route, utilizing it for coal transportation, concluding an agreement on modernization of North Korean transportation network in exchange for access to the country’s mineral resources, and other joint projects) were achieved, some important limitations on cooperation remain. In particular, Russia opposes North Korea’s nuclear program and supported the U.N. sanctions that impose serious restrictions on trade and financial operations between the two countries. In response to a question, the presenter considered implementation of the Transkorean railway project (that could boost Russia-DPRK cooperation) unlikely, at least in the short run, as inter-Korean political contradictions are too serious.

During and after the seminar, the participants discussed various options for developing research cooperation between the Asia Research Center and the Center for Asia-Pacific Future Studies.

(Serghei Golunov)

Report on the Chinese Social Science Forum on 16 November 2016

I was fortunate enough to be invited by the Director of Borderlands Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Xing Guangcheng, to attend their Forum 2016 on “One Belt One Road and bridging Eurasian economic associations” on November 16, 2016. Director Xing is one of China’s foremost experts on Russian and Eurasian issues, was for many years’ head of the Research Center on the Russian Far East and Central Asia, and has previously been a Visiting Fellow at Hokkaido University’s Slavic-Eurasia Research Center. He is one academic with a particular influence over the formation of foreign policy in China today, and is a regular at the Valdai International Discussion Clubs convened by Russian President Vladimir Putin.  This event was largely attended by Russian and Chinese academics and consisted of animated debate over whether Xi Jinping’s “One Belt One Road” policy and the “Greater Eurasia” called for by Putin could be brought productively together.

On the Chinese side, many strategic thinkers from the likes of the China Institute of International Studies and the Development Research Center of the State Council were present, while on the Russian side, the attendance of Sergei Lousianin, recently made Director of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, and those from the Far East like Viktor Larin from Vladivostock, was notable. It was very interesting that Larin, who had been one of the originators of the “Northeast Asian common house” idea in the 1990s, was now espousing “Greater Eurasia” rather than “Northeast Asia”.

The only participant from neither China nor a Post-Soviet country was myself, and as the seminar’s languages were Russian or Chinese, this participant was forced to brush off his rusty Russian in order to emphasize the possibilities for community building in Northeast Asia through the medium of border tourism.

It was my first time in Beijing for a while, and I was once again reminded of how Fukuoka is to the continent. I was also able to tell many old colleagues about the work we are doing at our new center in Kyushu University. It was noticeable how many of the Russian participants were very keen to attend our conference in Fukuoka next month. Kyushu is still largely a new frontier for most Russians, it appears.

(Akihiro IWASHITA)

Asia-Pacific Conference Report

On November, 5-6, 2016 the 14th Asia Pacific Conference was held at Ritsumeikan Asia-Pacific University in Beppu. Kyushu University’s researchers Akihiro Iwashita, Jong Seok Park, Chisako Masuo, (as speakers), and Serghei Golunov (as a moderator and a discussant) took part in the panel “The Emerging Power Game in Northeast Asia”, organized by the Center of Asia-Pacific Future Studies. 

Akihiro Iwashita’s presentation “Russia in the Northeast Asia: Contraction or Expansion?” was focused on assessing Russia’s historical and present geopolitical role in Northeast Asia. While regarding to the past, expansion and contraction cycles in Russia’s policy towards the Northeast Asia could be observed, now the new expansion cycle doesn’t look much probable for the short-term run. Instead, Russia rather tries achieving balance of interests with other powers. The presenter highlighted some important trends in and perceptions of the current Russian-Chinese and Russian-Japanese relations. While Russian-Chinese relations are good and increasingly constructed as alliance in public representations, Russian-Japanese relations are complicated by territorial dispute. It would be very difficult both for Moscow and for Tokyo to make such concessions that would be both sufficient for another party and, at the same time, acceptable for the own country’s public.


Jong Seok Park’s presentation “Dynamics and Prospect of North Korean Nuclear Issue in the Phase of China’s Rise” considered interests of the key actors involved in Korean Peninsula conflict (viz. of North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, and the USA) with special attention to Chinese interests. The North Korean choice to obtain nuclear weapon is represented as rational way to secure the regime’s survival while the USA, South Korea, and Japan have a straightforward goal to achieve Pyongyang’s denuclearization. At the same time, Chinese interests look less straightforward, as Beijing wants not only North Korean denuclearization but also blocking the U.S. expansion and preventing collapse of North Korea that has a long border with China. The presenter also discussed some scenarios under which the hypothetical U.S. withdrawal could prompt Japan and South Korea to obtain their own nuclear weapons.


Chisako Masuo’s presentation “The Impact of Chinese ‘One Belt, One Road’ on Northeast Asia” paid special attention to Chinese “center-regions” relations in the context of implementing large-scale cross-border projects, such as “One Belt, One Road”. It is not easy for regions to obtain governmental support, as this support is typically provided on a competition basis. To be treated preferentially in Beijing, regions should not only meet all corresponding criteria but sometimes also to be proactive, as it was in the case of Guangxi province, specially highlighted in the presentation. Comparing with Guangxi province, Heilongjian, Jiling, and Liaoning provinces, that claim governmental support under the framework of “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) project, are not much active and inventive.  Finally, the presenter assumed that the OBOR project is Beijing-centered so far while provincial governments do not have much room for significant autonomous actions.   

Edward Boyle’s paper at the 6th International Symposium on the History of Cartography

The 6th International Symposium on the History of Cartography was held at the Center for Advanced Academic Studies in the city of Dubrovnik, nestled magnificently against the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, from 13-15 October 2016. KUBS’s Edward Boyle gave a paper in the Second Session of the opening day on Territory, Sovereignty and Borderlands, entitled “Cartographic exchange and territorial creation: rewriting northern Japan in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries”.

A report on the paper and the conference as a whole is available HERE.