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Putin's visit to Japan: economy defeats politics

Putin's visit to Japan: economy defeats politics
Photo by: kremlin.ru

Valery Kistanov

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies
The visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin 15-16 December to the Land of the Rising Sun vividly highlighted the differences in priorities and expectations of the two countries from this trip. During the meeting and negotiations with him, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe focused on concluding a bilateral peace treaty after settling the dispute over the territorial affiliation of the four southern islands of the Kuril chain - Shikotan, Habomai (in fact, a group of small islets), Kunashira and Iturup. The islands moved to the Soviet Union after the Second World War, but Japan disputes these results and demands the return of all four islands. Russia believes that the islands belong to it by right and do not see the subject of the dispute.

On the eve of the visit, Putin publicly and unequivocally made it clear once again that the territorial issue exists in the minds of Japanese politicians, but not Russian ones.

At the closing press conference, the Russian president spoke more about the areas that bind our countries and should serve as pillars in building wide and lasting bridges to deepen political understanding and strengthen economic cooperation. And this, in the understanding of the Russian leader, should smooth over the severity of the territorial impasse, help find a way out of it, and, ultimately, conclude a peace treaty between the two countries, on the necessity of which, obviously, Japan insists more than Russia.

At the same time, Moscow is ready to talk with Tokyo about the islands to which it claims. In Japan, Putin again stressed that the conversation should be conducted on the basis of the Joint Declaration of the USSR and Japan of 1956, which provides for the voluntary transfer (not return!) By the Soviet Union to the Land of the Rising Sun of only two islands (Habomai and Shikotana), and only after the conclusion of a peace treaty ... However, Japanese politicians and experts are alarmed by the words of the Russian president: the fact is that the declaration does not mention under what conditions and under whose sovereignty the islands will be transferred. In addition, the Japanese side believes that both problems are interconnected and should be resolved in the reverse order - first the islands (obviously, Japan), then the treaty.

At the same time, the Japanese leadership does not guarantee that if the southern Kurils ("northern territories", in Japanese terms) are received, they will not have US military bases, which would be contrary to the Japanese-American security treaty. And this is already troubling the Russian leadership, especially in the light of the fact that Tokyo is considering the deployment of THAAD, the newest American missile defense system, on its territory. Apparently, this topic, along with the North Korean nuclear missile potential and other acute international security problems, will be discussed at the Russian-Japanese consultations in the format 2 + 2 (foreign and defense ministers of both countries). The agreement on their renewal on the initiative of the Russian side was reached during Putin's stay on Japanese soil.

Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that in the sphere of politics everyone remained “with his own people,” the meeting between Putin and Abe can be considered quite successful. Moreover, not only for Moscow, but also for Tokyo, despite the criticism of the prime minister heard in Japan for the fact that, in exchange for the broad economic cooperation he proposed to Putin, Japan did not receive any dividends on the territorial problem. It is worth noting that such criticism comes not only from the opposition, but also from the depths of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, headed by Abe himself. Indeed, in Japan they have not made and are not making a secret that the eight-point economic cooperation plan was proposed by the Japanese Prime Minister to Putin in Sochi in May of this year for a reason. It is calculated that Japan's "broad gesture" in the face of a difficult economic situation in Russia caused by falling hydrocarbon prices and Western sanctions will be appreciated and Moscow will soften its position on the territories.

At the same time, critics of Abe ignore the benefits that Japan itself will receive from the planned economic rapprochement with Russia. In it, the eight-point plan proposed by the Prime Minister of the country can serve as a good "screed". During the visit, these points were fully filled with six dozen joint projects totaling $ 2,54 billion. And although all of them will be carried out on Russian territory, one can hardly say that their implementation will become a one-way street. Suffice it to point to large-scale energy projects that will reduce Japan's dependence by 80% on energy supplies from the distant and explosive Middle East. Moreover, the country's nuclear power industry is actually in a frozen state after the accident at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant.

Finally, an important result of Putin's visit to Japan was a small but significant breakthrough on the territorial issue. The leaders of the two countries agreed on joint economic activities of Russia and Japan in the southern Kuriles. True, for its implementation it will be necessary to overcome the already revealed discrepancy as to the legal basis on which this activity should be carried out. Presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said in Tokyo that it was Russian. And Prime Minister Abe believes that joint management should be conducted not according to Russian, but also not according to Japanese laws. In his opinion, some special rules must be worked out for this. It appears that finding a common denominator in this regard will take time and skill in negotiation. After all, it touches upon the problem of sovereignty over the islands, which is painful for Tokyo.
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