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Dialogue continues

Russian and Japanese foreign ministers discuss North Korea and southern Kurils

Dialogue continues
Photo: ruspolitica.ru

Valery Kistanov

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies
The negotiations between Japanese Foreign Ministers Tarot Kono and Russia Sergey Lavrov that took place last week in Moscow did not arouse much interest among the leading Japanese media. They were ignored even by the regional newspaper Hokkaido Shimbun. And this is despite the fact that, by virtue of its status, the newspaper is the most interested and knowledgeable publication on the part of the territorial problem in Russian-Japanese relations and closely monitors all the nuances and slightest movements in the positions of the parties on this issue. As you know, the problem is caused by Tokyo’s claims on the four islands of the southern Kuriles.

The low interest in Japan to the event is apparently due to the fact that the ministerial meeting took place just after the summit of their leaders - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the fields of the APEC forum in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang. The results of the summit, which became known, however, shed little light on the prospects for resolving the notorious territorial dispute.

The ministerial meeting itself, as expected, did not bring any sensations or breakthroughs. With a high degree of confidence, it was possible to assume that the discussion will deal with two topics most in demand in bilateral relations today: ongoing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and joint economic activities in the southern Kurils. They are in Japan called their northern territories. Putin and Abe agreed on this activity during the official visit of the Russian leader to Japan in December 2016.

In Japan, one of the few central media outlets that responded to the talks of the heads of foreign affairs agencies was the mouthpiece of Japanese business circles, the Nikkei newspaper. 25 November newspaper published an article under the characteristic title "Japan and Russia are facing growing disagreement over North Korea." It notes that in the talks between Lavrov and Kono, Japan urged Russia to take further steps with regard to nuclear and missile developments in North Korea. However, in response, she received criticism for focusing on economic sanctions and the threat of military action initiated by the United States.

As the newspaper writes, Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono told his Russian partner Sergei Lavrov that Russia can play an exceptionally large role in North Korea. This was said with the aim of securing cooperation on the part of Russia in such a sphere as the full implementation of UN sanctions against the hermit state.

Lavrov, for his part, expressed concern about Japan's missile defense system, including a plan to acquire the US-designed Aegis Eshor ground-based system. In response, Kono stressed that this missile defense is aimed at protecting against attacks from North Korea and does not pose a threat to Russia.

Later at a press conference, the business publication reports, Lavrov said that the military scenario against North Korea would have catastrophic consequences. Russia stands for solving the problem through dialogue and calls into question the Japanese-American pressure in favor of imposing an oil embargo and more stringent economic sanctions.

Kono and Lavrov also discussed a plan for joint economic activities in the disputed territories. Here, countries have focused on five sectors, including tourism. It is curious to note that the Nikkei submits, as already decided, the fact that Russia and Japan will create a special system for joint management in the southern Kuril Islands, which does not undermine the legal positions of the parties on the islands controlled by the terminology of the newspaper. Lavrov and Kono agreed to hold talks at the level of department directors in December of this year, and deputy ministers in January or February. In addition, the newspaper informs that at a meeting in Moscow the ministers agreed to advance preparations for the summit in Russia in May of the following year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kono also suggested that Lavrov visit Japan before the proposed summit.

In addition to negotiations with Lavrov, Kono took part in the next meeting of the Russian-Japanese intergovernmental commission on trade and economic issues, of which he is co-chairman. The Minister discussed with his Russian counterpart, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, a plan for economic cooperation proposed by Shinzo Abe last year, consisting of eight points, including energy, medicine and other areas. In the same place, Kono called on Russia to lift restrictions on imports from Japan of industrial and food products imposed after the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in March 2011.

Finally, the Nikkei reminds readers that the grandfather of the current Japanese Foreign Minister Ichiro Kono was one of the main diplomatic negotiators at the conclusion of a joint Soviet-Japanese declaration in 1956, and his father, Yohei Kono, was also He was the founder on the Japanese side of the above-mentioned intergovernmental commission. Thus, Taro Kono, with his current trip to Moscow, continued the family tradition of developing relations with Russia, the economic newspaper concludes.

The right-wing conservative newspaper Sankey Shimbun, in the title of its article, also makes the thesis that during the negotiations between Lavrov and Kono there was a ditch between their positions with regard to North Korea. The newspaper, in particular, highlights the point that, to Kono's remark that the antimissile system deployed in Japan does not pose a threat to Russia, Lavrov expressed confidence that the United States would not transfer control of this system to Japan.

Instead of their own materials about the meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia and Japan, the liberal "Asahi Shimbun" and some other newspapers post a message about it to the American news agency Reuters. Moreover, in the headlines of reprints, these publications are again concerned with Russia's concerns about the cooperation of Tokyo and Washington in the field of missile defense. The very same American agency, analyzing the Russian-Japanese talks, concludes that Japan wanted to focus on resolving the territorial dispute between the two countries, which has seven decades, but Lavrov's comments on North Korea cast a shadow over the talks.

The agency mentions the fact that at the beginning of this year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed hope for a breakthrough in the territorial dispute between Tokyo and Moscow, but now these prospects have faded. In support of his forecast, Reuters quoted Lavrov and Kono as saying that they had made progress with regard to measures to accelerate Russian-Japanese economic cooperation on the islands, but did not provide any details regarding the resolution of the key issue of the dispute - who possesses sovereignty over the islands.

As for the 13 session of the Russian-Japanese intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation, it did not cause any feedback from the Japanese media. And it's not at all in the unlucky room of the event. The lack of reaction can serve as evidence that Russia is not among the priority economic partners of Japan - the third economic power of the world and the second in Asia.

In fact, according to the Federal Customs Service, in 2016, the volume of Russian-Japanese trade amounted to only $ 16,1 billion, although only three years ago it exceeded $ 30 billion. (its share in the total trade turnover of Japan is a meager 15%). Japan is also not a leader in our foreign trade - it takes only 1,6-th place among the foreign trade contractors of Russia (7%).

In 2015, the volume of accumulated direct investment from Japan to Russia decreased to $ 1,3 billion (15 place among investing countries) compared to 2012 in the year when they were equal to 2.7 billion. The decrease in half of this indicator can be explained not only by the deterioration of the investment climate in our the country, but also the influence of Western sanctions, which include Japan, despite its position in the East. Russia accounts for microscopic 0,3% in the total foreign investment of the Land of the Rising Sun. By the way, Russian investments in neighboring Japan tend to zero on the paradoxical background of the annual export of tens of billions of dollars from our country.

So far, significant economic projects are not visible in the package of documents worth $ 2,5 billion, which were signed in Tokyo last December during the visit of the Russian president to Japan. One should not count, due to the insignificance of its scale, that so the expected joint management in the southern Kuril Islands “will make the weather” in the trade and economic relations of the two countries. For Tokyo, it has more political than economic significance.

In general, it was not by chance that First Deputy Prime Minister Shuvalov summed up at the said meeting of the intergovernmental commission: “We have a common understanding of the common task - to bring bilateral cooperation to a level that would respond to the real economic potentials of the two countries and would not lag behind the intensity of political contacts all at the highest level. "

For his part, Taro Kono noted that during the meeting the problems of development of the Far East were touched upon, which, according to the minister, has great potential. "We can develop Russian-Japanese cooperation in this region in such areas as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, establish infrastructure for creating an export base in the Far East, and establish conditions for the development of investments," the minister said.

In a word, as in the previous decades, we will have more than one year of listening to the dialogue about the huge untapped potential of trade and economic cooperation between Russia and Japan. But both sides argue that it should pave the way to solving the territorial problem and, ultimately, the signing of a peace treaty between the two countries.
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