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Abe to make one-shot bid to resolve territorial issue at Yamaguchi summit

By Takao Toshikawa, editor of political newsletter “Insideline”


So far Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has held 14 summit meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including during his first administration. Among the leaders of the major powers, he seems to have “very good chemistry” with Putin.


The Abe-Putin meeting on Dec. 15 will take place at the hot spring inn “Otani Sanso” in Abe’s hometown, Nagato City, Yamaguchi Prefecture.


While the foreign ministries of both countries regard Putin’s trip to Japan as an official visit in terms of diplomatic protocol, this visit is likely to be very unusual, with Putin not dropping by Tokyo on his way to his overnight stay in Yamaguchi.


Visiting Tokyo would entail a series of official events, including a reception hosted by the Emperor. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Russian foreign ministry were keen on such an official visit, but Putin himself brushed off the idea, saying, “It’s a waste of time.”


The most important thing is whether progress will be made in the negotiations on the peace treaty and the Northern Territories issue. The Yamaguchi meeting is likely to be a “one-shot” bid.


This is because Abe is extremely enthusiastic about the talks.


Behind-the-scenes negotiations are heating up ahead of the Japan-Russia summit. Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama, who is trusted by the Kantei [Prime Minister’s Official Residence], attended the bilateral strategic dialogue in Moscow on Oct. 13. He met with First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov.


The Japan-Russia strategic dialogue was launched in 2007, when current National Security Secretariat chief Shotaro Yachi was Abe’s foreign policy adviser. Ten meetings were held subsequently but none in the past three years.


This was during the time of Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki, a champion of the Japan-U.S. alliance who took account of the U.S.-led sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis. The dialogue has now been revived.


Abe will present concrete proposals for economic cooperation to Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit to be held in Lima, Peru, on Nov. 19-20.


The eight-point economic cooperation proposal presented by Abe in Sochi on May 7 was drafted by Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko, who was then a deputy chief cabinet secretary, and the Prime Minister’s special advisor for economic affairs Eiichi Hasegawa. It is said that Putin literally applauded the proposal.


Seko will visit Russia in early November to finalize the economic cooperation plans with his counterpart, Minister of Economic Development Aleksey Ulyakayev.


If Abe is able to get a sense in Lima that he would be able to draw concessions on the territorial issue from Putin in Yamaguchi, what will he do?


The sudden talk about dissolving the House of Representatives on Dec. 9 for a general election on Dec. 25 may become a real possibility. (Abridged)

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