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2016年2月10日 (水)

北方領土問題 首脳会談で打開の糸口を探れ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Abe should find way forward on Northern Territories in talks with Putin
北方領土問題 首脳会談で打開の糸口を探れ

Russia maintains a tough, inflexible position regarding the territorial issue over the northern islands it occupies off Hokkaido. We hope the stalemate will be broken as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holds more talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking at a national meeting to demand the return of the four islands on Northern Territories Day on Sunday, Abe said, “Negotiations will be conducted tenaciously to work out a final solution through a dialogue of top leaders.”

Arrangements are being made for Abe to meet with Putin in the southern Russian city of Sochi during the extended holiday period from late April to early May. Tokyo and Moscow will also attempt to determine the most appropriate time for Putin to visit Japan.

Putin’s decision on the matter is indispensable to resolving the territorial issue. Abe’s desire to seek a solution by visiting Russia is therefore understandable.

But opposition can be expected from the United States and some European countries, which are at odds with Russia over the Ukrainian situation. To realize Abe’s visit to Russia ahead of the Ise-Shima summit of the Group of Seven major powers, which will be chaired by Abe, it is essential to secure the understanding of the other G-7 leaders.

Last month, the government established a new representative post on bilateral issues with Russia and appointed Chikahito Harada, former ambassador to Russia. Harada will represent Japan at vice-ministerial meetings with Russia instead of a deputy minister for foreign affairs. The appointment is believed to be aimed at more intensively tackling the territorial issue by establishing a task force for that purpose.

Abe apparently wants to bolster security relations with Russia, thereby checking China’s increased maritime advancement and North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.

No ‘token of goodwill’

Russia is also wary over China’s emergence. Due to the drop in crude oil prices and the weakness of the ruble, Russia’s economy has continued to deteriorate, with its gross domestic product falling to less than one-fourth of China’s. Some people have expressed concern about the widening gap in strength between the two countries.

Whether Moscow concurs with Tokyo about the importance of improving bilateral relations in Russia’s rivalry with Beijing could be a factor in making progress on the territorial issue.

A statement made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a news conference in late January cannot be overlooked. “Conclusion of a peace treaty is not a synonym for resolution of the territorial issue,” he said bluntly.

Concerning the return of the Habomai group of islets and Shikokan Island, based on the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956, Lavrov said these islands “would be handed over as a token of goodwill, not returned.”

But since the 1993 Tokyo Declaration on Japan-Russia Relations, both governments have confirmed repeatedly that they would try “to resolve the sovereignty issue over the four islands and conclude a peace treaty.” Thus resolution of the territorial issue and conclusion of a peace treaty are inseparable.

There is no mention of “a token of goodwill” in the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration. Lavrov’s self-serving interpretation cannot be accepted.

While attempting to explore the real intention behind Putin’s reference to resolving the territorial dispute “in a draw,” the government must proceed with negotiations prudently and strategically.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 9, 2016)


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