National / Politics

Japan and Russia seek progress on territorial dispute in Tokyo talks

by Daisuke Kikuchi

Staff Writer

Senior Japanese and Russian diplomats on Tuesday agreed to further promote negotiations over planned joint economic activities on four disputed islands off Hokkaido, Japanese officials said.

The vice ministerial talks in Tokyo over the Russian-held islands came ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s scheduled visit to Moscow in May. The Japanese officials, however, did not offer any details of concrete progress.

“We held detailed discussions … on five possible activities, based on the principle that they will not undermine legal positions” of the two nations on the islands, Senior Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Takeo Mori told reporters after the meeting.

Mori also said the two sides agreed to hold bureau-chief level working meetings as early as possible.

“We would like to accelerate work to achieve immediate implementation of the activities” through discussions, Mori said.

Tuesday’s meeting — the first Japan-Russia vice ministerial talks since last August — was attended by Mori and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Eiichi Hasegawa on the Japan side, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov.

The leaders of the two nations agreed in 2016 to conduct joint economic activities on and around the four islands under a special framework that will not undermine their respective legal positions on the islands’ sovereignty.

The five possible activities fall in the areas of aquaculture, greenhouse farming, tourism, wind power and waste reduction, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The islands off Hokkaido, which Japan refers to as the Northern Territories, were seized by the former Soviet Union from Japan at the end of World War II. The dispute has prevented Japan and Russia from concluding a peace treaty to formally end their wartime hostilities.

Mori said the two nations also discussed a possible trip by former Japanese residents of the islands to visit their ancestral graves. Such a visit also took place last year.