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Japan, Russia to survey disputed isles in June for joint projects

TOKYO — Japanese experts will carry out a survey with Russia of disputed islands controlled by Moscow but claimed by Tokyo in late June to assess potential joint economic activities, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday.


The dispatch to the islands of experts from the public and private sectors in fields such as fishery, tourism and healthcare is in line with an agreement last month and aimed at paving the way for the two nations to conclude a postwar peace treaty.


Ahead of a summit between the Japanese and Russian leaders slated for July in Germany, the experts are expected to draw up a priority list of possible economic activities to be conducted on the islands off Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido, including the cultivation of fish and sea urchins.


“Japan-Russia cooperation on the northern four islands is part of the process toward the conclusion of a peaty treaty,” Kishida said at a press conference.


Prior to the dispatch, a group led by Eiichi Hasegawa, a special adviser to the prime minister, is scheduled to visit Sakhalin, which effectively administers the disputed isles, from Tuesday through Thursday, Kishida said.


The group, composed of nearly 30 experts and government officials, is slated to meet the governor of Sakhalin to discuss how to proceed with the survey, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in December to start joint activities on the isles.


Kishida also said that Tokyo and Moscow are making arrangements for former Japanese residents to visit two of the four islands by air in mid-June.


Japan and Russia plan to organize a visa-free trip by air for the former islanders around June 18 to allow them to visit their ancestors’ graves, a diplomatic source said. If realized, it will be the first time for the former residents to travel to the islands by air.


The arrangement is in line with the two countries’ agreement to reduce burdens on the aging former islanders.


The territorial row concerns the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group, which are called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia. They were seized by the Soviet Union soon after Japan’s surrender in World War II.


The dispute has prevented the two countries from signing a post-World War II peace treaty.

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