Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in their Moscow meeting Monday to restart talks for concluding a peace treaty, which Japan hopes would lead to resolving the bilateral dispute over the sovereignty of the Northern Territories — four islands off the coast of Hokkaido that are occupied and controlled by Russia.
They agreed in their joint statement that it is abnormal that the two countries have not yet signed a peace treaty 67 years after the end of World War II.
Significantly they agreed to instruct their respective foreign ministries to accelerate talks to create a solution acceptable to both parties concerning the peace treaty issue.
Both leaders must prevent their diplomats from wasting precious time without producing any concrete results.
Japan takes the stand that only after the sovereignty issue over the islands is resolved will Japan sign a peace treaty. But there are no signs that Russia will make concessions beyond the 1956 Japan-Soviet joint declaration, under which Russia is to return two of the four islands — the Shikotan and Habomai islands — to Japan.
It is important for Japan to realize that unless trustful bilateral relations are established, it cannot expect Russia to make concessions on the territorial issue.
At the same time, Japan must take utmost care to prevent Russia from just taking advantage of Japan’s efforts to deepen bilateral ties and doing nothing to resolve the dispute.
Mr. Abe and Mr. Putin agreed to develop bilateral ties in every field on the principle of mutual trust and mutual benefits. They agreed to strengthen contact between the two countries’ leaders, including regular mutual visits, and to have their foreign ministers hold a meeting at least once a year through mutual visits.
This is a rational approach if the two countries are to deepen their bilateral ties.
Russia wants to strengthen its economic relations with Japan because it is becoming difficult to rely on Europe as importers of Russian energy resources due to economic stagnation there and increased availability of natural gas for Europe through the shale gas revolution. Japan, impacted by the Fukushima nuclear crisis, needs to import cheap liquefied natural gas for its thermal power plants. Russia also wants Japan’s industrial and technological know-how in developing far eastern Siberia.
The joint statement calls for expansion of cooperation in the energy field, which would include supply of energy at “competitive prices” to Japan, establishment of a “Japan-Russia investment platform” and expansion of “mutually beneficial cooperation” in transport infrastructure, the urban environment, the food industry and medical technology, instruments and drugs.
Although there may be obstacles, Japan should make efforts to establish a strong business and industrial foothold in the region to make Japan an indispensable economic partner for Russia as well as to maximize Japan’s interests.
In view of China’s attempt to increase its influence in Northeast Asia, Japan needs to deepen its ties with Russia.
Increasing cooperation in the field of defense and security, including launching meetings of Japanese and Russian foreign and defense ministers and exchanges of defense units and officials, as called for by the statement, is a reasonable approach.