• Kyodo

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Russia has proposed that the four disputed islands off Hokkaido be jointly developed with Japan, based on Russian legislation to help settle the prolonged territorial row, several diplomatic sources said Sunday.

Tokyo is reluctant to accept the proposal, made in June, because it would mean recognizing Russian sovereignty over the islands and undermine Japan’s claim. Tokyo has requested that Moscow reconsider the proposal, the sources said.

The idea was suggested by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov during his meeting with Senior Vice Foreign Minister Masaji Matsuyama in St. Petersburg on June 20.

At the meeting, Russia proposed that the Japanese government and private sector participate in large infrastructure and energy development projects on the islands, echoing similar proposals made in the past.

Matsuyama refused to accept the idea and repeated Tokyo’s basic position that all four islands belong to Japan, the sources said.

A senior Foreign Ministry official expressed concern that the participation of Japanese companies in joint development projects under Russian law would amount to a recognition of Russian sovereignty.

The two countries are expected to discuss how to resolve the territorial dispute in subcabinet-level talks scheduled for late August and during Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Japan in the fall.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in April to accelerate the stalled talks, which have prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty to officially end World War II.

The four isles off Hokkaido — Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group — were seized by the Soviet Union shortly after Japan surrendered to the Allied powers on Aug. 15, 1945.

Earlier this month, former Japanese and Russian diplomats urged their governments to start talks on returning Shikotan and the Habomai islet group to Japan and launching parallel talks on engaging in joint economic activity on Kunashiri and Etorofu.

Kazuhiko Togo, a former director general of the Foreign Ministry’s European Affairs Bureau, and former Russian Ambassador to Japan Alexander Panov jointly suggested the two countries hold talks based on the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration.

The joint declaration stipulates the handing over of Shikotan and the Habomai islet group after a peace treaty is signed. In 2001, Japan and Russia agreed on a statement that defined the declaration as the starting point for negotiations on forging a peace treaty.