The Yomiuri ShimbunThe issue left pending in the postwar period cannot be resolved easily. The government should tenaciously work toward realizing the return of the northern territories, without being swayed by Russian moves.
During their recent talks, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed that the two countries will cooperate on promoting energy projects in the Arctic Circle and on joint economic activities envisioned on the four islands off eastern Hokkaido.
As for negotiations on the conclusion of a peace treaty to resolve the territorial dispute, however, the two leaders merely confirmed a policy to continue talks.
Abe told a joint press conference, “The outline of hurdles that need to be resolved is becoming clear.” Putin said it is “a sensitive and difficult issue” and “steady work lies ahead.” Bilateral negotiations are expected to be prolonged.
The two leaders have agreed to hold negotiations on the conclusion of a peace treaty based on the 1956 Japan-Soviet Union joint declaration, which stipulates the return of the Habomai group of islets and Shikotan Island — two of the four disputed islands — to Japan’s jurisdiction. The government tried in vain to take advantage of Putin’s visit to Japan to attend the G20 meeting in Osaka to move forward on the territorial dispute.
Since returning to power in 2012, Abe has met with Putin 23 times. How will Abe make use of his favorable relationship with the Russian leader in future negotiations? Abe’s strategy will be tested anew in this regard.
The bilateral negotiations have struggled due to unreasonable assertions made by the Russian side.
Moscow has called for Japan to acknowledge that the islands legitimately became Russian territories as a result of World War II. The fact that the former Soviet Union occupied the four islands unlawfully after the war ended cannot be allowed to be distorted.
Search for breakthrough
Russian popular support for Putin has been declining as the economy has slackened due to sanctions imposed by Western countries, a factor that likely makes it difficult for Moscow to make concessions to Japan on the territorial issue.
While going ahead with peace treaty negotiations, Russia has been striving to build and expand roads and ports on Etorofu and Kunashiri. Russia has deployed missiles on the two islands and conducted military exercises in areas around the islands. Moves that undermine the relationship of trust are unacceptable.
If a peace treaty is concluded, Japan’s investment in Russia will expand. It is essential for Tokyo to explain in detail to Moscow the significance of returning the territories.
Regarding the planned joint economic activities, Abe and Putin have agreed that a sightseeing tour of the northern territories will be held on a trial basis this autumn. It has also been agreed that waste treatment experts from both countries will conduct inspections on the four islands.
To prepare for full-scale implementation of the planned joint economic activities, it is necessary to urgently study a “special system” of operations that will not infringe on the sovereignty of either country.
During the summit talks, it has been decided that Japan will assist in the development of liquefied natural gas in the Arctic and that preventive care facilities, including those for comprehensive medical checkups, will be built in the Russian Far East. Japan has no alternative but to build up steady efforts with a view to finding ways to break the deadlock on the territorial issue.