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Editorial: Bilateral cooperation key to overcoming stalemate in territorial talks with Russia

The Yomiuri Shimbun


The stalemate in Japan-Russia negotiations over the four northern territories continues. To reach a breakthrough in the situation, the government must expand cooperation that is conducive to each nation’s interests.


Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov met in Moscow, where they held talks over a bilateral peace treaty for the third time. At their last meeting in February, the two agreed that Lavrov would visit Japan for negotiations but the Russian side was slow to take action, which prompted Kono’s visit to Russia.


The two foreign ministers agreed to accelerate discussions aimed at conducting joint economic activities on the four islands. However, Kono said they had been unable to “overcome differences in our respective positions” at a joint press briefing.


In the latest talks, Lavrov reiterated Russia’s demand for Japan to acknowledge that the northern islands had legitimately become part of Russian territory as a result of World War II.


It is absolutely impossible to accept an assertion that distorts the historical fact that the four northern islands were unlawfully occupied by the former Soviet Union. Lavrov’s adherence to his country’s official stance as an initial step is extremely questionable.


To begin with, calls for concluding a peace treaty at an early date were initiated by Russia. In Japan-Russia summit talks in November, the two nations agreed to base negotiations on the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration, which states the group of Habomai islets and Shikotan Island will be handed over to Japan.


Honor agreement


It is said that in March, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated, “The momentum for negotiations has been lost.” Although the remark seems to reflect his awareness of domestic objections to the return of the territories, his neglect of the top-level agreement cannot be overlooked. Putin should display leadership in persuading the Russian public not to oppose it.


The government has no choice but to consider the matter from a long-term perspective. The task for Japan is to tenaciously urge Russia to make concessions over the territorial row while promoting bilateral economic cooperation to build mutual confidence. It is necessary to return to such a principle for the territorial talks.


Resolving the territorial matter and concluding the peace treaty would expand Japanese investments in the Russian Far East, something Moscow is hopeful for. Sharing such a perception is indispensable for both Japan and Russia.


Joint economic activities on the four northern islands are expected to include such projects as the cultivation of marine products and wind-power generation. It is vital to hurriedly consider a “special system” that would not undermine the two nations’ respective legal positions.


The Japanese and Russian governments are considering a plan to mutually dispense with short-term visas for visits between Hokkaido and Russia’s Sakhalin Province. It is also important to further promote personal exchanges between the two sides.


In the latest Kono-Lavrov talks, an agreement was reached to hold a so-called two-plus-two conference at the end of this month in Tokyo involving foreign and defense ministers from both nations. It is hoped that they will analyze the regional situation and build a relationship of trust in the area of security, too.


It is also important to urge Russia to play a constructive role in achieving North Korea’s denuclearization.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 14, 2019)

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