By Yohei Maeda
The government started preparations on Dec. 19 for full-fledged negotiations on system design for joint economic activities in the Northern Territories agreed upon by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two governments are expected to begin discussions in early 2017 on concrete economic cooperation projects, such as marine product processing, and how these activities should be conducted. The two countries are planning a “special system,” possibly a special zone, but Russia is insisting that these projects must be undertaken under Russian law. It may be difficult to arrive at a conclusion.
In addition to the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, the Environment Ministry, the Fisheries Agency, and other government agencies responsible for specific projects will participate in the government-level negotiations.
The main issue is how to conduct activities without undermining the legal position of either country. The Foreign Ministry will be responsible for this. It convened an internal meeting to discuss the conceivable legal frameworks on Dec. 19.
The government is concerned that Japanese companies’ conducting activities under Russian law might strengthen Russia’s effective control. On the other hand, a senior Russian government official has clearly stated that these activities “will be conducted under the Russian legal system.” The key question is how far the two sides will be able to compromise.
Abe told New Party Daichi leader Muneo Suzuki, who visited him at the Kantei [Prime Minister’s Official Residence] on Dec. 19, that he wants to work on this issue “speedily,” expressing enthusiasm for the negotiations. (Abridged)