China and Japan caught in the delicate manoeuvres of a Russian embrace
Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes his meetings with the leaders of China and Japan at the Sochi Winter Olympics will push his country further into Asia, analysts say.
President Xi Jinping met Putin on Thursday, while Japan's Shinzo Abe met him yesterday. Abe said later that Putin would visit Japan in the autumn. He said negotiations were accelerating towards a long-awaited peace treaty over four islands that both have claimed since the second world war.
Abe's trip to Sochi stands in marked contrast to Japan's sharply deteriorating ties with China and South Korea.
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama and leaders of key European countries were conspicuous by their absence, a move seen as a snub over Russia's notorious anti-gay law.
"The disputes between China and Japan have allowed Russia to increase its influence in Asia by co-operating with China while also negotiating with Japan," said Liu Jiangyong, a professor of international relations at the Tsinghua University.
He said Russia was taking a subtle approach, seeking to increase its influence at a time when the two major Asian powers were at loggerheads over a territorial dispute and Abe's decision to visit the Yasukuni war shrine in December.
"Both countries attach great importance to their relationship with Russia as they hope he will play an active role in regional security and they want his support amid the dispute over the uninhabited [Diaoyu/Senkakus] islands," said Liang Yunxiang , an international affairs expert at Peking University.
"Russia and China have traditionally been allies, and Tokyo is now trying to befriend Russia."
Xi made Moscow his first foreign visit since taking office last year and Xinhua reported his three-day Sochi trip was the first by a top Chinese leader to a major overseas sporting event.
During their talks on Thursday, Xi said China and Russia should "continue deepening our consultations and co-operation on major international issues".
Putin equated Xi's trip to a "visit by good friends", and decided to jointly commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war next year.
But China and Japan would avoid too heavy a reliance on Russia, said Da Zhigang , director of Northeast Asian Studies at Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences. "They would prefer to become security partners, but both countries will not want to rush into the Russian embrace," he said.
Additional reporting by Reuters, AP