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2016年9月 5日 (月)

日露首脳会談 大統領来日で「領土」は動くか

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Can Putin’s visit to Japan help move N. territories issue forward?
日露首脳会談 大統領来日で「領土」は動くか

Will Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Japan serve as the first step in moving forward with the northern territories issue, which has remained unsettled for as long as the 71 years since World War II ended?

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks with Putin in Vladivostok, Russia, and the two leaders officially agreed to meet in Yamaguchi Prefecture on Dec. 15. They also agreed to hold talks in Peru in November on the sidelines of an international conference.

“I was able to find a specific approach to move the negotiations forward,” Abe said following the talks with Putin. “I sensed a solid response.” Having held talks as many as 14 times so far, the two leaders have obviously built a certain relationship of trust.

There is strong opposition in Russia to the return of the four northern islands. The waters around them hold military significance as part of the Pacific route, and Russian forces have increased the number of soldiers stationed there. Therefore, we cannot have an optimistic view about the territorial negotiations.

We believe that no one but Putin, the most powerful figure in Russia, can make such a significant decision as returning the territories. It is understandable that Abe aims to settle the issue using a top-down approach while holding frequent talks with his Russian counterpart.

The prime minister apparently had a similar aim when he delivered a speech in Vladivostok calling for talks with Putin to be held once a year.

Leading up to Putin’s visit to Japan, the government should make every effort in the preliminary negotiations so this precious opportunity — the first visit by a Russian president in about six years — can give momentum to the northern territories issue.

During the latest talks, Abe and Putin reconfirmed that their countries will hold territorial negotiations using a “new approach,” without sticking to conventional ideas. Japan’s basic strategy is that it will look for clues to settle the issue while improving bilateral cooperation in various fields to move Japan-Russia relations forward as a whole and from a future-oriented standpoint.

Don’t be hasty

Abe also discussed the current situation in the eight areas of economic cooperation Japan has presented, including energy and development in Russia’s Far Eastern region. The prime minister said that Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko has been named to concurrently serve as minister for economic cooperation with Russia, and a council comprising of government and private-sector entities will also be established.

Russia has great hopes for Japan because it has been suffering a sluggish economy hit by falling oil prices and other factors. We believe Japan also can enjoy advantages, such as securing natural resources and gaining profits from investment in Russia, depending on the extent to which bilateral cooperation develops.

However, Japan should never be hasty, because the history of bilateral relations shows that the northern territories issue has always been left behind while only bilateral economic cooperation was put forward. The government should scrutinize what is included in projects when promoting cooperation with Russia.

It is also important for the two countries to work together in the security field. The Japanese and Russian foreign ministries held talks on the issue in early July. We hope they make sure to continue strategic dialogues.

A serious rift remains, with Russia on one side and the United States and European countries on the other, over Russia’s activities in Ukraine and Syria. Japan should refrain from disrupting cooperation among the Group of Seven major powers in terms of economic sanctions against Russia.

The U.S. government is taking a calm stance regarding Putin’s visit to Japan, saying it is “not concerned or worried.” Japan should continue its efforts to provide the United States and European countries with extensive explanations on its relations with Russia to seek their understanding.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 4, 2016)


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