National / Politics

Abe and Putin likely to sign off on economic projects on disputed isles

Abe, Putin likely to sign off on economic projects on disputed isles

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to approve joint economic activities on disputed islands off Hokkaido when they meet on Thursday, a diplomatic source said.

In their talks in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, the leaders are likely to sign off on joint projects in five areas — aquaculture, greenhouse farming, tourism, wind power and waste reduction, the source said Wednesday.

“I hope to make progress on the peace treaty issue by realizing joint economic activities that have been promoted and free visits by former Japanese residents” to the islands, Abe said before he left Tokyo.

Abe is visiting the Russian port city to attend a two-day Eastern Economic Forum that started Wednesday.

Tokyo sees the joint projects on the Russian-held islands, also claimed by Japan, as a pathway to resolving the territorial dispute and the signing a postwar peace treaty. Moscow, for its part, hopes to attract Japanese investments in promoting the underdeveloped regions.

With a view to realizing the projects, a group of Japanese government officials and experts from the public and private sectors will conduct a second round of studies on the islands as early as October, the source said.

An intergovernmental working group will also be set up to promote the projects, with officials from foreign, trade, health and environment ministries taking part from Japan, according to the source.

As the two sides remain far apart in their stance on sovereignty over the islands, they would need to find ways to carry out the projects that do not compromise their respective positions or create legal problems.

The disputed islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group were seized by the Soviet Union after Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II in August 1945. They are called the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan.

On the occasion of the Abe-Putin summit, Japan and Russia are expected to agree to over 30 deals on exchanges in areas including health care for the elderly, postal services and cutting-edge technologies, the source said.

In talks with Putin, Abe also hopes to get Russia’s support for strengthening pressure on North Korea, which on Sunday conducted its latest in an ongoing series of ballistic missile and nuclear tests in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The U.N. Security Council, of which Russia is a veto-wielding permanent member, is currently debating imposing fresh sanctions on North Korea, with Japan and the United States pushing for an oil embargo on the reclusive state.

“Japan will coordinate with Russia as well as the international community to make North Korea understand that there is no bright future (if it continues to promote its current policy) and to bring change to North Korea’s current policy,” Abe told reporters before leaving for Vladivostok.

During the visit, Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are set to reaffirm coordination in dealing with North Korea at their meeting, also expected Thursday.

Still, the diplomatic row over the issue of Korean “comfort women,” a euphemism used to describe the women forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels, may cast its shadow over any agreement between the two sides. Japan has called on South Korea to “steadily implement” a 2015 agreement under which the two nations agreed to resolve the decades-old issue “finally and irreversibly.” But Moon’s administration argues that “the majority of people in the country” do not approve of the comfort women agreement.

Prior to the Abe-Moon talks, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha, who are accompanying their respective leaders, were scheduled to hold talks on their own later Wednesday in Vladivostok.