Asahi certainly seemed to think Japan would indeed recognize an independent Kosovo pretty soon, when it ran a report on February 6 under the headline “Japan Considers Early Recognition of Independent Kosovo Following Europe and US (日本、独立コソボ承認へ 欧米に続き早期を検討). Otherwise, the Japanese media has been silent on the Japanese position.
According to the Asahi, the Japanese government feels that Boris Tadic’s victory in the Serbian presidential election raises hopes that a peaceful settlement is within sight. Perhaps; in which case Kosovo would have “(a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.”* But Mr. Foreign Minister Masahiko Kōmura added an important caveat in his February 10 press conference:
Japan will consider the requirements for national recognition from a legal perspective in order to recognize Kosovo's independence, and make a judgment after observing how international society receives the issue.
Now I’ve always assumed that EU members and the US would quickly recognize an independent Kosovo, if only to keep the matter from boiling over into open violence and even civil war. In fact, Europe is dangling a possible EU membership as the carrot to the largely Moslem ethnic Albanians of Kosovo. No doubt the Middle East will also follow suit in recognizing the Moslem breakout from the Orthodox-Christian Serbia.
However, Russia will be none too happy. The Asahi article gives Bosnia and Herzegovina as a precedent of sorts for the Japanese authorities. But Bosnia and Herzegovina’s independence was conclusively settled by the 1995 Dayton Agreement, to which both Serbia and Russia signed off. Russia is no longer that shambling, eager-to-please, impoverished relic of the Soviet era under an erratic President Yeltsin. It also remains to be seen whether Mr. Tadic will be able to use his slim 50.5% edge over ultranationalist Tomislav Nikolic’s 47.9% to give up sovereignty over Kosovo in exchange for a fast-track ride on the express to the EU.
What does it matter to Japan? Well, imagine that Kosovo leaves Serbia without an agreement with Serbia and Russia. If Japan endorses the break any time soon, President Putin will be none too pleased to see Prime Minister Fukuda in Moscow during the Japanese Golden Week. The issue could linger further and be yet another cause of conflict between Russia and the West at the G-8 Summit in Hokkaidō, a dispute that Prime Minister Fukuda, as host, will be hard put to mediate as a mere bystander. Just as serious in the context of domestic politics, Japanese recognition of an independent Kosovo in the face of Russian opposition should seriously compromise Japanese efforts to paper over the Russian refusal to hand over anything beyond the two small islands － if even that － out of the four that comprise the Northern Territories.
I suspect that Japanese recognition in effect will be very slow in coming.
* Convention on Rights and Duties of States (inter-American); December 26, 1933; Article 1.