Following Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s Nov. 1 visit to Kunashiri Island, one of the four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, the Japan-Russia relationship has been in a chilly state. But Japan should carefully watch recent Russian moves and look for a clue to improving ties.
On March 11, less than three hours after the massive earthquake hit northeastern Japan, Mr. Medvedev announced that his country was ready to help Japan. The next day, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said, “Japan is our neighbor, our friendly neighbor, and despite various problems, we have to be reliable partners.” He also ordered energy shipments to Japan in view of the nuclear power plant crisis in Japan.
On March 14, Mr. Medvedev and Prime Minister Naoto Kan talked by telephone and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov presented flowers at the Japanese embassy in Moscow, expressing “solidarity with Japan.”
Meeting with Mr. Lavrov in Paris the same day, Japan’s new Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto said that while Tokyo holds that the four islands are an integral part of Japanese territories, it would like to deepen ties in every field including politics, economics and cultural exchanges and to make progress in the territorial talks. Mr. Lavrov said if Japan pursues the line of former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, both countries can be optimistic about their relations.
Japan should pay attention to Mr. Lavrov’s remark. Mr. Maehara tried to build a trustful relationship with Russian officials through face-to-face meetings. Japan should be firm in its stance on the so-called Northern Territories issue. But Japanese politicians should refrain from emotional remarks for domestic, political consumption on Japan-Russia relations as well as from remarks that contradict agreements agreed on in direct talks with Russian officials.
Japan should also take advantage of Russia’s proposal to set up a committee of history experts as a chance to examine the results of World War II from various angles and to build trustful relations — the foundation for solving the territorial row.
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