Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will hold his 22nd summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sept. 10. Abe has worked out joint economic activities on the four Northern Islands with an eye to boosting the momentum for the territorial negotiations, but consultations to actually implement the ideas are not advancing. Meanwhile, Russia is moving to make the Northern Territories into military installations. The Abe administration’s plan is falling apart.
The national leaders have met for summits at the unusually frequent pace of several times a year. At the summit meeting in December 2016, they agreed to enter into full-fledged consultations with an eye to conducting joint economic activities. Abe called this achievement “an important step toward a peace treaty.”
The upcoming summit meeting will be held in advance of the “Eastern Economic Forum,” an international conference that will open in Vladivostok on Sept. 11. On Sept. 5, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov once again stressed that Russia will not make concessions in the territorial negotiations: “We proceed from the position that the Kuril islands (Russian name for the Chishima Islands and the Northern Territories) were transferred to the Soviet Union and Russia at the end of World War II on a lawful basis.” The joint economic activities are “only possible if they do not violate Russian law,” says Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Igori Morgulov.
The 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration states that the Habomai and Shikotan Islands will be handed over to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty. Since the time that the joint economic activities were agreed to, Putin has referred to the joint declaration as the “foundation.” According to a Foreign Ministry source, an aim of the joint economic activities was “to gain a preferential position for Japan regarding Etorofu and Kunashiri (which are not part of the territory to be handed over).”
In the advance negotiations for a field study in Etorofu in mid-August, Russia notified Japan that it would not allow the study to be conducted, and it unilaterally canceled the study due to inclement weather. Moreover, Russia has announced that it will conduct military drills in the Russian Far East and other locations in mid-September. The drills will be among the largest since the Cold War. A top Defense Ministry official warns that Russia will increase the frequency of drills and the deployment of missiles in Etorofu: “Russia will not let go of that island because it is a strategic point.”
The Russian side has notified Japan that the former island residents’ visit to family graves in Etorofu, which was scheduled for Sept. 10–13, has been canceled. This means that the Japanese government has not made it easier for former island residents to visit their family graves even though the government has been claiming it as an outcome of the summit meetings.
As the summit diplomacy has not made progress, there are signs that the government is trying to make it “appear that progress has been made.” They now use the term “business mission” to refer to the field study team, a change from “public-private team,” the term used at the May summit meeting. A government source explains, “This is to make it appear as though‘progress is being made.’”