• Kyodo

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Japan and Russia are mulling the release of a statement calling for talks on joint economic activities on Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands following the leaders’ bilateral meeting next week, Japanese government sources said.

The envisioned joint statement, to be issued after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin next Thursday and Friday in Japan, will also note the expansion of human exchanges and a plan to develop the islands at the heart of a decades-old territorial row, the sources said Wednesday.

Japan hopes engaging in joint activities on the islands will help advance talks on the territorial dispute, which has prevented the two nations from signing a post-World War II peace treaty, the sources said.

The countries remain apart on their stances over the ownership of the islands off Hokkaido that Soviet forces seized in the closing days of the war.

Japan says the islands are its inherent territory but Russia says it legitimately took control of them as a result of World War II.

Over the proposed joint economic activities on the islands, Japan’s stance is they need to be conducted in a way that would not lead to recognizing Russian sovereignty, the sources said.

Concerns in Japan also remain strong about promoting economic cooperation with Russia as doing so may not necessarily make progress on the territorial talks.

The leaders plan to first meet at a spa resort in Abe’s home prefecture of Yamaguchi on Dec. 15 to discuss political issues, including territory and a peace treaty, and then in Tokyo for another round of talks focused on economic cooperation.

Joint economic activities will include establishing joint ventures on the islands in the fields of fisheries, seafood processing and tourism, while not making clear the ownership of the islands.

Abe proposed studying the issue at his summit with Putin in May, the sources said.

But even if joint economic activities are realized, legal issues remain, such as which laws should govern the activities. It could also lead to strengthening Russia’s control of the islands.

The joint statement will note the expansion of the scope of the visa-free exchange program, under which a limited number of people such as former Japanese residents of the islands can visit them at present, as well as visits by business people.

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