NUSA DUA, INDONESIA – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed Monday to seek progress in bilateral territorial talks to resolve a dispute that has prevented the two countries from signing a World War II peace treaty.
Abe told Putin that he wants to instruct his ministers to “increase the depth of Japan-Russia relations,” according to a Japanese official, as the leaders met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit that started earlier in the day in Bali, Indonesia.
The meeting was their fourth over the last seven months. The high frequency signals that they have been steadily building mutual trust toward concluding a peace treaty, Japanese officials said.
When meeting last month on the margins of the Group of 20 leading economies’ summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, Abe and Putin agreed their governments will launch ministerial talks on security issues.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu are scheduled to visit Tokyo next month for the “two-plus-two” meeting with their Japanese counterparts, Fumio Kishida and Itsunori Onodera.
The countries at the same time will continue territorial talks at the level of senior officials, which were held most recently in August.
Abe told Putin that the next such working-level meeting should be held “as soon as possible,” a Japanese official said, adding that Putin responded by saying Russia “wants to discuss (the issue) thoroughly at the two-plus-two (meeting) in November.”
Tokyo and Moscow have been at odds over the sovereignty of Russian-administered islands off Hokkaido that were seized by the Soviet Union in 1945 following Japan’s surrender in World War II.
After holding a summit in Moscow in April, Abe and Putin said in a joint statement that Japan and Russia will proceed with economic cooperation, with Tokyo apparently trying to strengthen bilateral ties through various aid packages for Russian development projects before injecting momentum into the territorial talks.
Also among the goals of such cooperation is the deepening of business ties between the countries. Russia is widely seen as expecting further Japanese investment to develop its Far East region, known for abundant oil and gas reserves — a major attraction for resource-poor Japan.
On Monday, the leaders also exchanged views on the civil war in Syria, a Russian ally.
They welcomed successful diplomatic efforts at the United Nations, where a resolution was passed recently to press Syrian President Bashar Assad to dismantle all of the country’s chemical weapons, said Japanese officials. Putin also praised Japan’s humanitarian aid for Syria.
Abe meets Xi
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shook hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday in Indonesia, as Tokyo and Beijing remain locked in a territorial row.
A Japanese official said Abe and Xi were attending a meeting of business leaders on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit that started the same day.
China claims the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islets in the East China Sea and refers to the chain as the Diaoyu. Tensions over the islets heightened after Japan effectively nationalized the uninhabited group in September last year.
Efforts by Japanese officials to arrange talks between the countries’ leaders on the margins of the APEC summit in Bali appear to have failed.
Last month, Abe and Xi had a brief conversation in Russia, where they attended the Group of 20 leading economies’ summit, their first direct contact since Xi took office in March.