• Kyodo

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Japan and Russia have agreed to set up a task force to jointly develop tourism and four other businesses on disputed islands controlled by Moscow but claimed by Tokyo, a Japanese government official said Tuesday.

Tokyo hopes joint economic projects will pave the way for settling a decades-old territorial row with Russia, while Moscow aims to attract Japanese investment to the underdeveloped islets off Hokkaido.

The first meeting of the task force is expected to be held early next year between Japan and the State of Sakhalin to advance the joint businesses, which also include projects involving aquaculture, greenhouse farming, wind power and waste reduction. Sakhalin administers the contested isles.

Separately, the two countries will discuss human resource development in the five business areas.

“We were able to have an image about where we should implement the five projects,” Eiichi Hasegawa, a special adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, told reporters at the port of Nemuro in Hokkaido after returning from an on-site survey of the islands.

The latest move follows an agreement between Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin in September to carry out joint economic projects on the disputed islands in the five key areas.

Abe is expected to meet again with Putin in mid-November on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Vietnam and agree with him to speed up the process.

During a six-day visit through Tuesday, a group of Japanese public and private sector experts led by Hasegawa inspected 57 spots including hot spring sites, hotels as well as salmon and trout hatcheries on Kunashiri, Etorofu and Shikotan islands.

The three islands and the Habomai islet group were seized by the Soviet Union after Japan surrendered in August 1945, ending World War II. They are called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.

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