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2015年9月24日 (木)

日露外相会談 領土対立打開へ対話を重ねよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tenacious talks with Russia key to ending impasse in territorial dispute
日露外相会談 領土対立打開へ対話を重ねよ

Russia’s hard-line stance toward the northern territories has become more conspicuous. Nevertheless, the only way to improve Japan-Russia relations is for politicians of the two countries to hold talks tenaciously and repeatedly.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on Monday in Moscow and protested a recent series of visits by the Russian prime minister and cabinet ministers to the northern territories, saying, “Their visits are extremely regrettable and not acceptable.” Lavrov reportedly refuted this by saying, “Russia has its own standpoint.”

On the other hand, Kishida and Lavrov agreed “to explore ways to a solution acceptable to both sides.” They also agreed to resume vice-ministerial-level talks early next month — for the first time in one year and nine months — regarding the conclusion of a peace treaty. The two countries will reportedly seek to hold talks between their top leaders and foreign ministers on the sidelines of international conferences.

Negotiations on the peace treaty have been suspended following sanctions imposed by Japan on Russia in connection with the Ukrainian situation and Russia’s retaliatory steps. We cannot expect immediate results, but we appreciate the fact that the two countries agreed to resume talks.

Kishida, who had postponed his visit to Russia, told Lavrov during the meeting, “Because there are issues pending between us, it’s all the more important to hold talks repeatedly.” His assertion is understandable.

However, the two countries stand far apart in their positions on the territorial dispute.

During a joint news conference after the meeting, Lavrov said: “We didn’t discuss the northern territories. The agenda of the talks was the conclusion of a peace treaty.”

Illogical argument

It cannot be overlooked, however, that Lavrov tried to justify the illegal occupation of the northern territories for 70 years and make it a fait accompli by saying “the reality of postwar history should be recognized.”

A joint statement issued by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013 called for holding negotiations on a peace treaty based on all accords adopted by the two countries, including the Irkutsk Statement that specified efforts toward a solution to the sovereignty issue over the four islands off Hokkaido. In this sense, Lavrov’s argument is illogical.

It seems that Russia wants to draw concessions from Japan, such as the lifting of sanctions and economic cooperation, by swaying Japan through hard-line and moderate approaches.

Russia’s economy has been deteriorating due to economic sanctions imposed by the United States and European countries and the decline in crude oil prices. Russian expectations on Japan, it may be said, are reflected by the fact that Igor Shuvalov, first vice premier in charge of economic affairs, conferred with Kishida.

A focal point for the time being is whether Putin’s visit to Japan can be realized before the end of this year.

Japan is forward-looking in regard to Putin’s visit. But even if it is realized, it will come to nothing if meaningful talks are not held. It may end up merely disrupting the unity of the Group of Seven industrialized countries on anti-Russia sanctions.

Does Putin have the resolve and ability to earnestly tackle the tasks of repairing relations with Japan and proceeding with a solution to the territorial issue? The Japanese government must deal with the matter carefully after seeing Russian responses. Strategic negotiating capabilities are called for in this regard.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 23, 2015)


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