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Editorial: Time to reassess territorial negotiations

No prospects are in sight [for the conclusion of a Japan-Russia peace treaty]. The negotiations can only be viewed as having foundered.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in the Russian Far East city of Vladivostok. As for the conclusion of a peace treaty, they only “affirmed that they will work on negotiations in a future-oriented manner.”


Prospects for real progress on the joint economic activities on the four Northern Islands are also dim. This is because Russia has not backed down from its insistence that they be conducted in accordance with Russian law.  


In November last year, the two national leaders agreed to accelerate the peace treaty negotiations based on the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956. The declaration clearly states that Russia will hand over to Japan the Habomai and the Shikotan Islands after the conclusion of a peace treaty.


The content of the recent negotiations has not been disclosed. With the recent meeting, though, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has in effect shifted course from demanding the return of four islands and to requesting the return of two. Abe’s move is aimed at breaking the deadlock, but all the signals that Russia has sent out since then have been negative.


Right before the summit with Prime Minister Abe, President Putin took part by live television broadcast in the opening ceremony of a seafood processing plant on Shikotan. Perhaps he wanted to make it appear that the four islands are being developed through his own power. The move can also be viewed, however, as an indication that Putin can no longer afford to show consideration or respect for Prime Minister Abe, who was visiting Russia [at the time].


President Putin is maintaining stability using high-handed methods, but his hold on the people is declining with the economic slump.


The recent meeting was the two leaders’ 27th tête-à-tête. Some outcomes have been achieved over the years: for example, former islanders can now fly to the disputed islands to visit the graves of their ancestors. It is also significant that the leaders of these two neighboring countries have built personal ties and exchange views on issues.  As for the territorial issue, however, the Japanese side’s eagerness is the only thing that attracts notice.


If negotiations continue in like manner, it can be assumed that the Russian side will be on the attack through the joint economic activities. If Japan sticks to the path of seeking a quick resolution, it may be taken advantage of. Even after the meeting, President Putin said he saw the Japan-U.S. security arrangements as problematic. This suggests he no longer has a desire to advance the negotiations.


Is it not time for the government to reassess the negotiations? They should review any tactics in need of revision.

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