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2013年2月24日 (日)

北方領土交渉 「仕切り直し」へ戦略練り直せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 24, 2013)
New strategy needed to resume talks over northern territories
北方領土交渉 「仕切り直し」へ戦略練り直せ(2月23日付・読売社説)

The government's aim of smoothing the way for future talks between Japanese and Russian leaders has been achieved. The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe now faces a test on whether it can devise a specific diplomatic strategy to make progress in negotiations to solve the dispute over the northern territories.

Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori met recently with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow.

During the meeting, Putin said it is abnormal that the two countries have yet to conclude a peace treaty due to the obstacle of the territorial issue.

Drawing a picture of a judo competition area on paper, Putin stated his intention to make a fresh start in the negotiations. He said Japan and Russia cannot compete because both countries stay at the edge of the competition area, and that they should be pulled to the center to start over.

Putin's predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev, visited Kunashiri Island, one of the four islands in the northern territories, while he was Russian president. During the visit, Medvedev took a hard-line stance on the issue, saying: "This is our native land. We will not give away an inch."


Figure out Russia's real intent

Abe must appropriately interpret Putin's positive signal on the territorial issue. We hope the Abe administration will negotiate with Russia patiently while trying to figure out what Moscow really has in mind.

During the talks, Mori asked Putin to clarify his remarks in March last year that he would seek "hikiwake"--a judo term meaning a draw--to solve the issue. Putin reportedly said it was meant to be a solution that creates neither a winner nor a loser, but he did not elaborate.

Putin apparently regards the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration as a starting point for negotiations on the territorial row. The declaration stipulates the Habomai islets and Shikotan Island should be returned to Japan after the two countries sign a peace treaty. In recent years, Russia has allocated funding for developing infrastructure in the northern territories to steadily "Russianize" them, especially on the other two islands of Kunashiri and Etrofu.

On a TV program last month, Mori mentioned the possible option of Russia first returning three of the islets--with the exception of Etrofu Island--not all four at once. He made such remarks apparently in the belief that the nation should quickly aim for a realistic solution.

When he was foreign minister, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso floated the idea of dividing the four islands equally in terms of size.

However, bilateral negotiations between the Abe and Putin administrations have yet to take place. If Tokyo takes a concessional approach before the talks start, Moscow may take further advantage of it. In the same way as previously, Japan should aim for the return of all four islands in the negotiations.


Expanded cooperation key

At the meeting with Mori, Putin also expressed his hopes of expanded bilateral cooperation in the energy sector, such as in oil and natural gas. He also said his country wants to take advantage of Japan's agricultural technology in developing its vast Far East region.

Japan's economic strength and technology would be attractive to Russia, which has increased its focus on development of the Far East and Siberia. If the territorial dispute is resolved, Japan and Russia will be able to cooperate in more areas beneficial to both countries. Such expanded bilateral cooperation also could put a brake on China, a growing economic and military power.

It is vital for both Japan and Russia to increase their shared awareness that bilateral cooperation is strategically important. This could pave the way to solving the territorial issue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 23, 2013)
(2013年2月23日01時27分  読売新聞)


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