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Japan, Russia vow to step up joint economic project talks on disputed islands

Kyodo

Senior officials from Japan and Russia’s Sakhalin Island confirmed Wednesday that both Tokyo and Moscow will step up dialogue for potential joint economic projects on disputed islands off Hokkaido controlled by Moscow but claimed by Tokyo.

“If both Japanese and Russians imagine that they will engage in economic projects together, it will enhance mutual understanding and build mutual trust,” Eiichi Hasegawa, a special adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said at a meeting with Sakhalin Gov. Oleg Kozhemyako in the Sakhalin region.

“There are many promising sectors where we can cooperate such as fisheries, seafood processing and agriculture,” the governor responded. “We are ready to push for cooperation.”

Sakhalin administers the contested Northern Territories, which are known as the Southern Kurils in Russia.

Hasegawa, a former top bureaucrat with the trade ministry, headed a group of nearly 30 government officials and public- and private-sector experts in the latest trip to the region.

The delegation arrived in Sakhalin on Tuesday to lay the groundwork for a survey with Russia that is scheduled to be conducted there in late June to assess the feasibility of potential joint economic projects.

The group of experts from various fields is scheduled to stay in Sakhalin through Thursday, the Foreign Ministry said.

Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in December to start joint projects on the isles off the northernmost main island. Tokyo hopes the joint undertakings will pave the way for settling the decades-old territorial row with Moscow.

The islands of 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 dispute has prevented the two countries from signing a postwar peace treaty.

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