WASHINGTON – An aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday sought U.S. support for Japan concluding a postwar peace treaty with Russia, saying closer Tokyo-Moscow ties will help counter a threat posed by China.
“Both Japan and Russia view China as a potential threat,” said Katsuyuki Kawai, special adviser to Abe for foreign affairs.
“I would like the United States to understand the importance of concluding a Japan-Russia peace treaty as a means to jointly counter the threat from China.”
Kawai made the remarks at the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank, before Abe travels to Russia later this month for talks with President Vladimir Putin on concluding a peace treaty based on a 1956 joint declaration.
The declaration, approved by the legislative bodies of Japan and the Soviet Union, says the island of Shikotan and the Habomai islet group — two of four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido — will be handed over to Japan following the conclusion of a peace treaty.
Abe “is strongly determined to conclude a Japan-Russia peace treaty by resolving the territorial dispute between the two countries during his tenure as prime minister,” said Kawai, a lawmaker for Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.
The territorial dispute, which also involves the islands of Kunashiri and Etorofu, has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from signing a post-World War II peace treaty.
Kawai also said Japan aims to normalize relations with North Korea after addressing the nuclear and missile issues, as well as its abduction of Japanese nationals, but that Tokyo has “no intention” of moving ahead of Washington in negotiating with Pyongyang.
“Japan will keep in step with the United States in this respect,” he said.
Citing concerns that China may increase its influence over the Korean Peninsula, Kawai underscored the need to further strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance as well as trilateral cooperation with South Korea.
“In the emergence of a situation of a new Cold War, South Korea appears to be leaning toward the China and North Korea axis,” he said. “We must bring South Korea back to the liberal democracy camp.”
Abe has a “strong desire” to advance the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific — a concept apparently aimed at countering China’s rising clout and assertiveness in the region — in partnership with the United States, Australia and India, according to Kawai.
The adviser condemned China’s “expansionist behaviors” in the East and South China seas.
Similarly, Japan does not unconditionally support China’s “Belt and Road” initiative, a trillion dollar infrastructure project critics say is intended to draw countries deeper into Beijing’s economic orbit, Kawai said.