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Oct. 19 marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration, which restored diplomatic ties between Japan and the then Soviet Union (now Russia). Yet the prospect for solving the Northern Territories issue has not improved.

As the Russian economy is in a good shape mainly due to high prices of crude oil, an important Russian export, economic relations between the two countries are expanding. Bilateral trade reached a record $10.7 billion in 2005. Many Japanese firms including Toyota and Nissan are doing business in Russia.

But overall bilateral ties are not bright. In August, a Japanese fishing boat was fired on by a Russian maritime border patrol boat off Hokkaido, resulting in the death of a Japanese fisherman and the capture of three others. Separately, the Russian government has decided to cancel an environmental permit for the Sakhalin-2 international oil and gas project, in which Royal Dutch Shell has a 55 percent stake and Mitsui and Mitsubishi own 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

In the 1956 joint declaration, the Soviet Union agreed to hand Shikotan Island and the Habomai islets over to Japan after the two countries sign a peace treaty. The Northern Territories also include Kunashiri and Etorofu islands. In 1993, Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed the Tokyo Declaration, which confirmed that territorial negotiations should cover all four islands and take into account past joint documents — including the 1956 joint declaration, according to Mr. Yeltsin — and the principle of law and justice.

But the Russian side has never agreed to discuss a return of Kunashiri and Etorofu. Since Mr. Vladimir Putin came to power, Russia seems to have become less interested in talking about the territorial issue. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should use the summit in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November as a chance to build personal trust between him and Mr. Putin and lay a foundation for future talks on the territorial issue.

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