LONDON – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s much heralded visit to Japan on Dec. 15-16 facilitated a great deal of bonding and camaraderie between the two leaders. Putin was invited to a hot spring with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his home prefecture of Yamaguchi. However, there was nothing in the way of diplomatic breakthroughs on key issues, including sovereignty over the disputed islands off Hokkaido and a long-awaited formal World War II peace treaty between Japan and Russia.
The visit did launch cooperation in economic areas including investments by Japan in industries ranging from Russia’s energy to health care, which could serve as a platform for developing mutual trust and cooperation — principles which both leaders acknowledged to be crucial in the goal of reaching political consensus on the disputed islands and a peace treaty. In the meantime, both leaders agreed to start talks on joint economic cooperation on the disputed islands, reportedly to be conducted through a special framework involving sectors such as tourism, culture, fishing and medicine.