VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday suggested Moscow and Tokyo should sign a deal that solves their long-running territorial dispute by the end of the year.
“Let’s conclude a peace agreement by year’s end without any preconditions,” he told an economic forum in the far eastern city of Vladivostok attended by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other leaders. Earlier Wednesday, Abe said he was determined to resolve with Putin the dispute over the sovereignty of a group of islands off Hokkaido and conclude a post-World War II peace treaty between the two countries.
Speaking at a plenary session of the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Abe reiterated his view on the matter.
“President Putin and I share the view that it is an abnormal situation that Japan and Russia have not concluded a peace treaty although more than 70 years have passed since the end of the war,” he said.
In response to Putin’s comment, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in Tokyo that Japan stands by its long-standing position that the territorial dispute must be resolved before the two nations can ever sign a peace treaty.
He also said Putin’s comment came out of thin air, saying no similar suggestion was brought up during the “candid” Abe-Putin bilateral talks that preceded the economic forum.
“We will continue to persist in our negotiation with Russia” based on Japan’s traditional policy regarding the territorial dispute, he said.
A senior Japanese official, meanwhile, said Tokyo considers Putin’s apparently off-the-cuff remark unofficial and undeserving of official diplomatic protest.
“It would be ridiculous of us if we reacted to every utterance he makes,” he said.
Abe met with Putin on Monday for the 22nd time. But there was little progress in their negotiations over the Russian-held islands, which are also claimed by Japan, where they are known as the Northern Territories.
The islands — Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group — were seized by the Soviet Union after Japan surrendered during World War II. In Russia, they are called the Southern Kurils.
Abe urged Putin to move forward with the negotiations, asking, “If we don’t do that now, when will we?” and “If we don’t do that, who will?”
The Japanese leader is eager to advance territorial talks as he is widely projected to win the Sept. 20 leadership race of his ruling party and secure another three-year term as its president. Putin cemented his political power by securing a six-year term in March’s presidential election.
The Eastern Economic Forum has been held since 2015 by Putin for the purpose of drawing more investment to the Far East region.
Japan now seeks to break an impasse on the territorial row by building trust with Russia through ongoing economic cooperation on the disputed islands.
“The Far East region, including Vladivostok, will be a gateway that gathers people, goods and funds as a result of Japan-Russia cooperation,” Abe said.
On North Korea, Abe underlined the necessity of realizing the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and expressed his hope that the next round of inter-Korean summit talks scheduled for next week in Pyongyang would lead to the North taking concrete actions toward that goal.
Abe also pledged to resolve the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents decades ago, which he has made one of his top priorities.
“I am determined to settle the unfortunate past with North Korea and normalize diplomatic ties,” he said.
“I have to break through the shell of mutual distrust, take a step forward and directly face Chairman Kim Jong Un,” he said, adding that nothing had been decided in regards to a possible Japan-North Korean summit.