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There's no magic wand in resolving Japan-Russia territorial dispute

Publication Date : 02-05-2013

 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinto Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin have confirmed their intention to push Japan-Russia relations forward by resolving the dispute over the northern territories at their meeting in Moscow. They must use diplomatic finesse to break the impasse in the bilateral relations.

Both leaders agreed that it is "extraordinary" that the two countries have not concluded a peace treaty 67 years after the war.

They have also concurred on the long-standing territorial dispute over four islands off Hokkaido, saying the two countries should spur negotiations to find a "solution acceptable to both".

We welcome the restart of negotiations toward a peace treaty, which have been deadlocked.

A joint statement issued by Abe and Putin stipulates that the two nations will negotiate a solution based on "all documents and accords adopted before." These documents include the 2001 Irkutsk Statement, which calls for settling the island dispute before a peace treaty is concluded.

Resolution to be tough going

It is natural for the two nations to restart negotiations by respecting decades of negotiation process.

However, a huge gulf remains between the two nations over the issue.

It is believed Putin aims to settle the dispute by returning the Habomai islets and Shikotan Island as stipulated in the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration. However, the return of only two of the islands is unacceptable to Japan.

"There's no magic wand to resolve [the dispute] in a breath," Abe said at a joint press conference with Putin. He is right in this regard, for the current situation does not make progress over the dispute easy.

During their meeting last June, then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Putin agreed to revive territorial talks, but no progress was made. To the contrary, Russia has allocated budgets to develop the northern territories to pursue the Russianization of the islands.

Finding a solution to this increasingly thorny dispute requires strong initiatives by the top leaders. It also calls for their political shrewdness to build a consensus in their respective countries. For this, a relationship of trust must be built between Abe and Putin. We strongly urge Abe to come up with tangible results that bring this goal closer.

Solidifying his political foundations and revitalizing the Japanese economy will certainly boost Abe's negotiating power.

Brisk economy an advantage

Putin's keen interest in Asia will be a plus in negotiations. Russia has high expectations of Japan's investment in the development of Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East. In addition, Russia sees Japan not only as a destination for its natural gas exports, but also as a provider of medical and agricultural technology.

Abe was accompanied by a large delegation of corporate leaders on his visit to Russia in a gesture to live up to Russia's expectations.

Furthermore, Abe and Putin agreed on the establishment of a two-plus-two forum, involving each government's foreign and defense ministers. The two nations share the same interests in keeping China in check and dealing with North Korea's nuclear development program.

Vice ministerial talks are scheduled to be held soon to discuss how the two nations can find a way to resolve the territorial dispute, while broadening and enhancing the scope of the bilateral relations. Japan should work out strategies to this end thoroughly and without undue haste.

 

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