The foreign and defense ministers of Japan and Russia agreed Saturday to deepen bilateral cooperation on maritime security by expanding a joint search and rescue exercise by the Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Russian Navy to counterterrorism and anti-piracy operations.
At the first “two-plus-two” ministerial meeting between the two nations, held in Tokyo, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and their Russian counterparts, Sergey Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu, also agreed to establish a bilateral conference on cybersecurity.
The four ministers said they plan to hold the next meeting in Moscow as early as next year.
“I believe we’ve made a good start in opening a new chapter concerning Japan-Russia relations,” Kishida said at a joint news conference following the morning talks. “By deepening cooperation in many areas, including security, Japan and Russia will contribute to peace and stability in the region.”
Kishida also said the bilateral cooperation on security, along with economic and human exchanges, will have a “good influence on negotiations over the conclusion of a peace treaty,” referring to Tokyo’s hope to pave the way for negotiations on a territorial dispute over four Russian-held isles off northern Hokkaido.
Although the ministers stressed that the move is not a countermeasure against any specific country, experts have pointed out that one of the major reasons behind setting up a Russo-Japanese two-plus-two framework is to contain China’s growing military presence.
“I hope to bring our mutual understanding to another level regarding emerging threats, such as international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” Shoigu said.
During the meeting, Kishida also explained Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policy of turning Japan into a “proactive contributor” to global peace, including a plan to reinterpret the war-renouncing Constitution so the nation can exercise the right to collective self-defense. Kishida stressed that he gained the understanding of the Russian side.
A Foreign Ministry official later said Shoigu aired Moscow’s concerns about the missile shield jointly developed by Japan and the United States, claiming the system threatens to nullify Russia’s nuclear deterrence and could lead to an arms race.
Kishida also discussed Japan’s strained ties with China and said Tokyo’s door is always open to bilateral talks, the official said.
During a face-to-face meeting Friday, Kishida and Lavrov agreed that their deputy foreign ministers would hold talks around late January or early February on the territorial dispute, which has prevented the two sides from signing a postwar peace treaty.
Kunashiri, Shikotan and Etorofu islands and the Habomai islet group were seized by Soviet forces after Japan’s surrender in World War II, and Tokyo has demanded their full return for decades.
The first round of deputy ministerial-level negotiations was held in Russia, and Tokyo hopes to host the next meeting.