Japan and Russia have agreed to start new working-level talks regarding joint economic activity on the four disputed islands off Hokkaido, Foreign Ministry officials said.
The director-level task force, launched separately from an existing working-level dialogue involving higher-level officials, is intended to boost coordination on the territorial dispute ahead of a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin. The meeting is planned for June on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit.
A major breakthrough on the issue appears unlikely during the summit, with Russia showing no signs of budging on Japan’s proposal that the two smallest islands be handed over.
Japan hopes the implementation of economic activities on the Russian-controlled islands will lead to an eventual settlement of the dispute, which has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from signing a postwar peace treaty.
Senior Deputy Foreign Minister Takeo Mori told reporters Monday that he had “in-depth” discussions with Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov on the establishment of a framework to allow people to travel to the islands without undermining their countries’ positions.
Mori said the discussions included visa-free travel between Hokkaido and Sakhalin in the Russian Far East, which covers the disputed islands.
The islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, were seized by the Soviet Union following Japan’s surrender in 1945. Tokyo asserts the seizure was illegal while Moscow maintains it was a legitimate outcome of the war.
Morgulov on Monday also held talks with Kenji Kanasugi, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, in which they agreed to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, according to Japanese officials.
Putin is slated to hold his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un later this week, after talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim fell apart in February.