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Editorial: Don’t be misled by Putin’s proposal

Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed at an international conference held in Vladivostok in the Russian Far East that a Japan-Russia peace treaty be concluded without preconditions by the end of this year. The proposal means that the resolution of the Russian-held Northern Territories issue will be delayed. As it ignores Japan’s position on the matter, we cannot accept the proposal.

 

To begin with, the resolution of the territorial issue is inseparable from concluding a peace treaty. The Irkutsk Statement signed by President Putin and then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in 2001 clearly says, “The two countries will conclude a peace treaty through the solution of issues concerning the attribution of the four islands.”

 

Prior to President Putin’s proposal, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that joint economic activities on the four islands will deepen the mutual understanding between Japan and Russia, which will help resolve the territorial issue and become a momentum of concluding a peace treaty. We understand that the two countries have negotiated each other along that course.

 

President Putin said the proposal was “a new approach” and called for “the two friends’ resolving all points of conflict” after concluding a peace treaty. However, his proposal, jumping to the conclusion of a peace treaty without a guarantee to resolve the territorial issue, would only benefit Russia.

 

In response to the proposal, PM Abe said, “(Concluding a peace treaty) will require further understanding between the peoples of the two countries and improvement of the environment.” We can say PM Abe responded to the proposal in a level-headed manner.

 

Meanwhile, we need to discern President Putin’s real intention. If he aims to shelve the territorial issue, Japan must reconsider whether Tokyo should continue its economic cooperation with Russia including joint economic activities.

 

Russia, which opposes the West, is shifting its geographic focus to Asia as a strategic priority. It is said that Russia maintains a close relationship with China, but Moscow is already becoming more economically dependent on Beijing. Under the circumstances, some Russian officials call for a cautious stance towards China. Some experts say Russia wants to attach importance to relations with Japan to keep China in check.

 

We need to take into account the fact that President Putin made the proposal at a conference where Chinese President Xi Jinping was also present.

 

It is important for Japan to cool-headedly analyze Russia’s position in the international community and negotiate with Moscow. Tokyo should not be misled by President Putin’s proposal.

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