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Deliberate strategy required to advance Japan-Russia talks
Publication Date : 22-08-2013
Deadlocked negotiations over the northern territories off Hokkaido will soon make a fresh start. We urge Japanese and Russian leaders to finally resolve this longstanding issue.
Japanese and Russian deputy foreign ministers met in Moscow on Monday and affirmed their countries’ basic positions on the disputed islands.
They agreed that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold summit talks on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit meeting in St. Petersburg on September 5.
This will be the third tete-a-tete between Abe and Putin this year. It is meaningful that they are meeting frequently to build up mutual confidence.
Russia insists that the four northern islands became the former Soviet Union’s territories as a result of World War II.
Japan’s position is that the Soviet Union seized the four islands by taking advantage of the chaos in the closing days of the war and they have been illegally occupied since then. If the four islands are acknowledged to belong to Japan, the government is prepared to respond flexibly to the timing and manner of their actual return.
These negotiations are likely to be anything but smooth because wide gaps remain between the two countries’ claims and recognition of the issue. The bottom line is that a solution needs to be found in accord with law and justice.
The question is what Putin really meant when he said both sides should be willing to accept a “hikiwake” (draw) over the issue.
Putin’s remark is utterly unacceptable for Japan if he thinks he wants to settle the dispute by returning only the Habomai group of islets and Shikotan Island to Japan based on the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956, which requires Russia to hand them to Japanese rule after a bilateral peace treaty is concluded.
Japan should move ahead with the negotiations while carefully watching the situations inside and around Russia, and work out a deliberate strategy.
Both sides can benefit
Russia wants Japan’s technologies and investment to help develop eastern Siberia and the Far East. Sales of Russia’s natural gas to Europe, its biggest customer, have dropped due to the shale gas revolution in the United States, so Moscow has high expectations Japan will import more of its natural gas.
Japan and Russia have common interests in dealing with North Korea, which is pressing ahead with its nuclear development, and putting pressure on China. Beijing has irritated Moscow by advancing into the Northern Sea Route, which is being developed as polar ice melts due to global warming.
Japan must draw up a blueprint that will convince Russia returning the northern territories will benefit both countries and help develop bilateral relations.
The “Russianisation” of the northern territories has been steadily moving ahead. Last month, Putin visited Sakhalin State and expressed his intention to extend the development of the Chishima Islands, including the four northern islands, under “a programme for the social and economic development of the Kuril Islands”. Japan should not just sit idly by.
Last month’s House of Councillors election handed Abe a stable political footing that could last up to three years. He must knuckle down on the negotiations and produce results in his talks with Putin.