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“New approach” to territorial talks will not mention Russia’s illegal occupation

The approach based on “new ideas” to the Northern Territories issue Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir recently agreed upon consists of going into discussions on a concrete solution without mentioning the two governments’ disagreement on the historical and legal facts, sources informed Sankei on May 11. The government will not touch on Russia’s illegal occupation of the four Northern Islands and will take a realistic position on resolving the question of sovereignty over the islands. Full-fledged negotiations will start at the vice foreign ministerial talks in June, aiming at making progress in a summit meeting this year.


At the Japan-Russia summit on May 6, Abe proposed a “new approach to break the impasse” in the Northern Territories talks. Putin agreed to the proposal.


The Japanese government’s position so far is that the Northern Territories are an integral part of Japanese territory and the Soviet Union occupied them illegally after Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration in 1945. On the other hand, Russia claims that its occupation of the islands is “the result of World War II.”


Although Abe and Putin agreed during Abe’s first visit after the inauguration of the second Abe cabinet in April 2013 to accelerate territorial talks, the two sides have failed to agree on the historical and legal facts at working level and foreign ministerial talks, making no progress on this issue. Therefore, they have now agreed not to base discussions for a solution on historical and legal facts. They are now focusing on moving forward in the talks in light of the aging of the former Japanese inhabitants of the islands and Russia’s development of the Far East.


A Kantei [Prime Minister’s Official Residence] source points out that the reason for shifting policy on the territorial talks is that “it will be impossible to make progress in the territorial issue that has been pending over 70 years since the end of the war with the normal sort of efforts.”


On the other hand, not mentioning this principle in the negotiations has the risk of weakening Japan’s position since it has so far aimed at resolving the territorial issue based on historical and legal facts. Abe’s negotiating skills will be put to a critical test.


A concrete proposal for a solution will start to take shape with the talks from June. Abe will visit Vladivostok in September and will also take advantage of international conferences to hold discussions with Putin.

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