A Japanese field study team on Japan-Russia joint economic activities in the [Russian-held] Northern Territories visited the islands of Etorofu and Kunashiri on Oct. 3-5. The team consisted of members from the public and private sectors.
Forty-nine people from the Japanese government and businesses participated in the field survey team led by Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Eiichi Hasegawa. On Oct. 2, the team left the Port of Nemuro [in Hokkaido] for Etorofu. They visited a fisheries processing plant and hot spring facilities on Etorofu on Oct. 3. On Oct. 4 and 5, the team members went to Kunashiri where they discussed a wind power generation project and other projects with their Russian counterparts. Due to a bad weather, the team shortened their itinerary and cancelled their originally scheduled visit to Shikotan Island.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed on the joint economic activities in the Northern Territories during the summit meeting held during the Russian leader’s visit to Japan in 2016. The joint activities are the core of the “new approach” aimed at resolving the issue of the Northern Territories by building trust between the two countries through economic cooperation and other measures. The two governments aim to have their nations’ companies conduct joint projects in the following five fields: (1) aquaculture, (2) greenhouse cultivation of vegetables, (3) sightseeing tours, (4) wind power generation, and (5) trash reduction measures.
A public-private sector field study team was sent to the Northern Territories twice last year. This is the third visit by such a team, and it was tasked with narrowing down potential joint projects based on the “roadmap” agreed upon during the Japan-Russia summit held in September this year. The team also aimed to have detailed discussions with its Russian counterparts. On Oct. 5, the governor of Sakhalin Oblast participated in the discussions. Advisor Hasegawa told the press at Nemuro Port, “We presented our proposals to our Russian counterparts and discussed the proposals with them. We deepened mutual understanding quite a bit.”
Discussions have not moved forward, however, about creating a “special system” that does not undermine the two countries’ legal status, which is required to conduct the joint projects. It looks like it will be rough going to actually realize the joint projects. In September this year, President Putin proposed out of the blue to PM Abe that the two countries sign a peace treaty without any preconditions. Some officials within the Japanese government remain skeptical about the proposal, saying, “(President Putin made such a remark) to indicate he rejects the “new approach.” Going forward, the two governments plan to work out the details of the joint economic activities through discussions at the vice foreign ministerial level.