TOKYO, Dec. 20, Kyodo — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hit back Tuesday at criticism that he made little progress in talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, saying Japanese people could again live on Russian-held islands at the center of a territorial dispute as a result of joint economic activities.
In a speech in Tokyo, Abe said he found it “profoundly moving” that he and Putin took “an important step” toward the resolution of the row and the signing of a long-delayed post-World War II peace treaty with Russia.
During their two-day summit in Japan on Thursday and Friday, the leaders failed to overcome differences over the sovereignty of the chain of islands off Hokkaido that are claimed by Japan.
Abe defended the progress the two did make, including an agreement to consider “internationally unprecedented” joint economic activities on the islands under a system that compromises neither country’s legal stance on their ownership.
“If (the joint activities are) realized, Japanese people could make many visits to the islands and live there, and with trust, we can make the islands (a place of) coexistence rather than of confrontation,” Abe said.
“There is no way (to resolve the islands issue) except by envisioning a future in which the people of both Japan and Russia advance together,” he said.
Abe also said he wants to visit Russia early next year to make further progress on the issue and bilateral ties.
In a Kyodo News poll released Sunday, 54.3 percent of nationwide respondents viewed the outcome of the talks negatively, while 38.7 percent viewed it positively.
Abe also said his upcoming visit with outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama to Pearl Harbor, the site of the 1941 Japanese surprise attack that drew the United States into World War II, will “show the great power of reconciliation to the world.”
Abe is scheduled to visit the site and hold his last summit with Obama during a trip to Hawaii next week.