By Yoshio Hanada in Moscow
Oct. 19 marked the 60th anniversary of the Japan-Soviet Joint Communique, which was the starting point of a new relationship between Japan and the Soviet Union (Russia) after World War II. With the Northern Territories issue remaining unresolved, the focus in Japan is mostly on progress in the territorial issue ahead of President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Japan in December. On the other hand, there are growing hopes in Russia for potential practical economic benefits.
During the socialist Soviet era, Japan mainly imported timber, coal, and other resources from the USSR, while the Soviet Union imported Japanese machinery, steel pipes, and other industrial products.
With Russia moving toward a market economy after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, Japanese brands began to make vigorous inroads into the Russian market.
Meanwhile, Russia has become an important source of energy for Japan. It imports some 10% of its liquefied natural gas (LNG) and 8% of its crude oil from Russia through such projects as Sakhalin 2, in which Japanese trading firms also have a stake. Trade volume between the two countries in 2015 was around 2.522 trillion yen, a fivefold increase since the start of the Putin administration.
Ahead of Putin’s visit to Japan, Russians have high hopes for economic cooperation projects with Japan based on the eight-point proposal Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made last May, which involves areas including medicine, urban development, and economic development in the Far East.
Although Japan and Russia have yet to resolve the Northern Territories issue, overall the Russian people like Japan. A public opinion poll conducted by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Russia this spring showed that 78% of respondents thought that bilateral relations are “good.” (Abridged)