Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is likely to discuss the ongoing territorial dispute with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Singapore, the first stop of the Japanese leader’s five-day Asia-Pacific tour that begins Wednesday.
The focal point of the summit will be whether Abe can make any progress in negotiations on the dispute over four Russian-held islands claimed by Japan, observers said.
Abe will attend meetings related to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Singapore through Thursday, and a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Papua New Guinea on Saturday and Sunday. He will also visit Australia this week.
At an economic forum in the Russian Far Eastern city of Vladivostok in September, Putin proposed signing a peace treaty by the end of this year without setting any preconditions.
When the two leaders attended a judo competition held soon after the forum, Abe told Putin that Japan could not accept such an offer.
The territorial row has prevented the two sides from concluding a peace treaty to formally end their World War II hostilities. The islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, were seized from Japan by Soviet troops in the closing days of the war in 1945.
After returning home from Vladivostok, Abe said he took Putin’s abrupt proposal as an expression of his “eagerness” to conclude a peace treaty with Japan — indicating hope of making progress in negotiations on the territorial dispute at two envisaged summits this year, including the one in Singapore.
But the negotiations could be tough as Putin has not mentioned any intention of making concessions, observers said.
Abe is also arranging meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, who are expected to participate in the ASEAN and APEC meetings, in hope of further improving bilateral ties.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in plans to join the meetings as well but many Japanese government officials are negative about the prospect of holding a Japan-South Korea summit this time, as Seoul has not shown any inclination to correct what officials in Tokyo see as a violation of international law over the issue of wartime forced labor involving South Korean workers in Japan.
In late October, South Korea’s Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of such workers in a damages lawsuit.
During a visit to Darwin, Abe will hold talks with his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, to confirm that the two countries will strengthen national security cooperation.
Abe hopes to promote his strategy for a free and open Indo-Pacific region at the Japan-Australia summit and at other meetings during the tour.