The Yomiuri Shimbun
In order to effect a breakthrough in stagnant negotiations on the territorial issue, there must be no other way but to implement faithfully what the leaders of both countries have agreed on and steadily accumulate achievements.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok, Russia. It was their 22nd meeting in total, following one held in May this year.
The two leaders came up with a road map designed to realize joint economic activities in the northern territories.
In the joint economic activities, business firms of both countries will jointly invest in and carry out projects in five areas, including joint aquaculture operations and greenhouse vegetable cultivation.
The number of Russians living on the four northern islands is now well over ten thousand. By advancing economic cooperation and human exchange through these undertakings, the joint activities are aimed at building trust between Japan and Russia, thus leading to the return of the territories.
Fixing a time limit for the realization of items of bilateral cooperation deserves recognition. While neither country has unveiled details of the road map, it is necessary for both to heed the agreements and put a process in motion to realize the scheme.
During their talks, both leaders also agreed on sending a survey team to the islands in early October, a dispatch postponed due to bad weather around the islands.
Talks with regard to a “special system,” needed for the joint economic activities, have had rough going. Russia has insisted on applying its domestic law to these activities. Accepting Russia’s assertion would mean acknowledging its sovereignty over the islands, which Japan cannot accept.
Patient persuasion needed
In a joint press conference after the talks, Abe said that only after realizing what can be possibly implemented, while not compromising either side’s legal position, there would be the conclusion of a bilateral peace treaty.
Putin said Moscow is ready to explore solutions acceptable to people of the two countries.
In the territorial negotiations between Japan and Russia, nothing moves forward without the mutual consent of both leaders.
Abe must hold talks with Putin repeatedly and tenaciously impress upon him that the return of the territories will lead to benefits for Russia. This is what would accelerate working-level talks.
Regarding bilateral economic cooperation, both leaders have confirmed Japan’s participation in Russia’s liquefied natural gas project in the Arctic zone. It is important to move bilateral relations forward by advancing cooperation over broad areas, together with the joint economic activities on the four northern islands.
Not to be overlooked is that the Russian forces have beefed up their activities, in terms of both quality and quantity. In Russia’s Far East, large-scale military drills called Vostok 2018 have started. In the drills, Chinese forces are taking part for the first time. With China and Russia rallying together, the drills appear to be aimed at holding the United States in check.
Although Russia has excluded the northern territories from the sites of exercise, these are nothing but actions that could destabilize the security environment of East Asia.
Abe told Putin that Japan is “keeping a close eye on” such developments. He should continue urging Russia to exercise self-restraint.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 12, 2018)