• Kyodo

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Japan will propose to Russia that the countries jointly offer advanced medical services on the disputed islands off Hokkaido that are controlled by Moscow, a diplomatic source has said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin agreed at their summit in December to launch talks on joint economic activities on the disputed islands. Senior officials of the countries will meet in Tokyo on March 18 to discuss the matter.

The joint projects will likely include tourism promotion, the source said Wednesday. Abe will aim to broadly agree on such projects with Putin when he visits Russia next month.

Deputy Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba and his Russian counterpart, Igor Morgulov, will take part in the meeting, at which Japan will propose infrastructure development to enable online medical services for islanders, the source said.

The Japanese government will ask domestic medical institutions and equipment manufacturers to participate in the project.

Other projects being floated include jointly conducting tourist tours of the islands using a ferry, operating a seafood-processing factory and cultivating abalone, the source said.

Japan is seeking to engage in such bilateral projects without recognizing Russian sovereignty over the islands.

The officials will also discuss the possibility of allowing former Japanese residents to fly to the islands without visas to visit their ancestors’ graves, the source said. Currently, such visits are conducted only by chartered vessels.

In the December summit, Abe and Putin agreed to facilitate such visits, considering that the average age of the former residents is 81.

The islands — Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group — were seized by the Soviet Union after Japan surrendered in World War II in August 1945.

The territorial row has prevented the two countries from signing a post-World War II peace treaty.

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