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Japan, Russia mull statement on joint projects on disputed isles

TOKYO, Dec. 8, Kyodo — Japan and Russia are mulling the release of a statement calling for promoting talks on joint economic activities on Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands following their leaders’ upcoming summit, Japanese government sources said Wednesday.


The envisioned joint statement to be issued after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Dec. 15 and 16 in Japan will also note the expansion of human exchanges and compilation of a plan to develop the islands at the heart of the decades-old territorial row, the sources said.


Japan hopes its engaging in joint activities on the islands would help advance talks on the territorial dispute, which has prevented the two Asian neighbors from signing a post-World War II peace treaty, the sources said.


The countries remain apart in their stances over the ownership of the islands off Japan’s northernmost main island Hokkaido called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.


Japan says the islands are their inherent territory but Russia says they legitimately took control of them as the result of World War II.


Over the proposed joint economic activities on the islands, Japan takes the stance they need to be conducted in a way that would not lead to recognizing Russian sovereignty over the islands, the sources said.


Concerns in Japan also remain strong about promoting economic cooperation with Russia as doing so may not necessarily make progress on the territorial talks.


According to one of the sources, the proposed joint statement will be released following Dec. 15 to 16 meetings between Abe and Putin. The leaders plan to first meet at a spa resort in Abe’s home prefecture of Yamaguchi in western Japan on Dec. 15 to discuss political issues, including territory and peace treaty, and then in Tokyo for another round of talks focused on economic cooperation.


Joint economic activities will include establishing joint ventures on the islands in the fields of fishery, seafood processing and tourism, while not making clear the ownership of the islands.


Given Russia’s enthusiasm for the idea, Abe proposed mulling the issue at his summit with Putin in May, the sources said.


But even if joint economic activities are realized, legal issues remain to be resolved, such as which laws should govern the activities. It could also lead to strengthening Russia’s control of the islands.


To promote human exchanges on the disputed islands, the joint statement will note the expansion of the scope of the visa-free exchange program, under which a limited number of people such as former Japanese residents of the islands can visit them at present, to business-related people.

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