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Russia-Japan: summit meetings continue

Putin and Abe discussed the pressing problems of bilateral relations

Russia-Japan: summit meetings continue

Valery Kistanov

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies
In late May, Russian President Vladimir Putin, along with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and French President Emmanuel Macron, took part in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. And shortly before that, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Putin in Sochi. A visit to Russia by the heads of the three leading Western countries and their informal communication with the Russian president marked an important trend in the gradual exit of our country from that isolation in the international arena, the main engines of which are the Anglo-Saxon powers.

The dialogue between Putin and Abe in St. Petersburg and Moscow was a notable event in Russian-Japanese relations. It was the 21-I meeting of the two leaders given their rendezvous during Abe's first prime time in 2006-2007. In addition to active participation in the forum, Russian and Japanese leaders conducted intensive personal negotiations, and also met with representatives of the business circles of both countries and opened the cross-age years of Russian culture in Japan and Japan in Russia at the Bolshoi Theater. Important topics of Putin's and Abe's talks were topical issues of bilateral political relations, economic cooperation between the two countries, as well as the situation on the Korean peninsula.

As might be expected, the focus of the talks was the territorial problem. It consists in the claims of Tokyo to the four islands of the southern Kurils, which were transferred to the USSR following the Second World War. However, unlike the media and experts of Russia and Japan, the leaders of the two countries rather delicately prefer to use the euphemism "peace treaty" instead of the term "territorial dispute". The reason for such delicacy, apparently, is the understanding that the Japanese side does not think of the conclusion of this treaty without solving the territorial problem on terms acceptable to it.

The prelude to the May discussion by Putin and Abe of the prospects for concluding a peace treaty was the unequivocal statement made by the presidential aide on international issues, Yuri Ushakov: "The future document must be based on post-war realities - clearly recorded Japan's clear recognition of the outcome of World War II and the legitimacy of the transition of the southern Kurils to our country in accordance with the agreements between the allied powers, as well as their legal personality throughout the evoennyh years. "

The invariability of Russia's principled position on the territorial issue led to the fact that no progress was made in the talks between Putin and Abe. This can be judged by the evasive phraseology of the two leaders at their final joint press conference. On it the president of the Russian Federation, in particular, said: "During the talks, the issues related to the peace treaty were discussed. We consider it important to continue patiently to find a solution that would meet the strategic interests of Russia and Japan, and it would be accepted by the peoples of both countries. "

The Prime Minister of Japan, for his part, spoke more broadly on the most difficult problem of Russian-Japanese relations: "One and a half year ago, Nagato (I remember it was snowing), we talked with President Putin face to face, and then announced our sincere readiness to solve the problem of concluding a peace treaty, which gave rise to work on new directions. "

Apparently, it is on the Russian president that he makes a personal bet to Abe, believing that only Putin can make territorial concessions to Japan under the conditions prevailing in Russia. This message is confirmed by the following statement by the prime minister at the same press conference: "As I mentioned earlier, in Nagato city in my homeland, we, with President Putin, agreed to express our sincere position and strive to conclude a peace treaty. It is this will, our will, will of will that opens a new way of relations between Japan and Russia. Therefore, together we once again became convinced of our determination with a new approach to move forward consistently towards the conclusion of a peace treaty. " And further: "The issue of a peace treaty that has not been signed for more than 70 years is not easy to solve, but in our generation we want to put an end to solving this problem. This is the main task of our plan. "

The fact that the Japanese prime minister places his territorial hopes on the Russian president does not hide the Japanese official newspaper, the Japan Times, which writes: "Abe is betting on Putin, who secured himself another six-year term in the presidential election in March to take a landmark decision on the disputed islands that lie next to Hokkaido. "

According to the calculations of the Japanese Prime Minister, it is Japan's economic cooperation with Russia that should open the way to concluding a peace treaty with it. This is the essence of the "new approach" mentioned by him to relations with our country. He announced about him two years ago in May 2016 at a meeting with Putin in Sochi. Then Shinzo Abe offered Vladimir Putin a well-known plan for economic cooperation, including the development of the Far East, from eight points. Since then, the representatives of the two countries are actively working to fill this plan with concrete content, although, apparently, the case is moving slowly, and no breakthrough projects have been announced in the framework of the said plan.

This fact was actually acknowledged by Putin at a meeting in St. Petersburg with the business community of Russia and Japan: "We took with great interest the initiatives of the Japanese Prime Minister Abe to develop Russian-Japanese relations in the eight priority areas and on this basis proposed their plan out of 80 priority projects. Some of them have already begun to develop. " The Russian president also noted the modest level of economic cooperation between Russia and Japan, saying that Japanese investments in the Russian economy do not exceed two billion dollars, and bilateral trade turnover for the past year was only about 18 billion dollars, while, for example, with China, he Russia has reached 86 billion.

The Japanese leader, for his part, drew inspiringly bright prospects for economic partnership between Russia and Japan. So, in an interview with Putin on May 21, Abe shared his dreams with him about the times when a peace treaty will be concluded between the two countries. He said: "And the Arctic Ocean, and the Bering Sea, and the North Pacific, and the Sea of ​​Japan - all these regions will be connected by the sea road of peace and prosperity." According to him, the Sea of ​​Japan in this case will become a "huge logistics highway". It is not clear, however, why these dreams can not be realized before the conclusion of a peace treaty, if they meet the pressing economic needs of both countries.

And at a meeting with Russian and Japanese businessmen Abe, in particular, said: "Japan-Russia relations have great potential. In order to realize this potential, exactly two years ago I proposed to President Putin a plan of cooperation from eight points ... We already have more than 130 projects that appeared within the framework of the cooperation plan; half of them have already acquired real features and started implementation. " As to how the priority projects mentioned by Putin and 80 projects of Abe will be combined, we, apparently, have to learn in the near future.

An active exchange of views on the prospects for economic cooperation was held in St. Petersburg at the panel discussion "Russia-Japan Business Dialogue", attended by Vladimir Putin and Shinzo Abe. During the discussion, specific areas of business cooperation between the two countries were named, such as energy, automotive, urban economy, transport infrastructure, digital economy, productivity increase and others.

The participants of the discussion stressed the importance of bilateral cooperation in the field of medicine, including the modernization of the departmental clinics of the Russian Railways, as well as in the field of combating oncology. In their opinion, this should contribute to an increase in life expectancy in Russia. The latter seems very relevant for the country, including in the light of the announced intention of the world leader in the production and marketing of tobacco products - Japan Tobacco, to invest a huge amount of more than 1,5 billion dollars in the purchase of Don Tobacco.

Taking advantage of this opportunity, Japanese businessmen expressed a number of complaints and wishes to the Russian side. For example, Chairman of the Japanese-Russian Committee on Economic Cooperation of the Federation of Economic Organizations of Japan (Nippon Keidanren), Teruo Asada, noting that Japanese business is not very active in such projects in the Far East as the TOR and the free port of Vladivostok, stated the need for improvement in the region infrastructure, extension of preferences in the tax system and other measures.

An important part of economic cooperation between Russia and Japan should be the joint economic activities of the two countries in the four disputed Tokyo South Kuril Islands. The agreement was reached by Putin and Abe during the visit of the Russian president to Japan in December 2016. To date, five areas have been identified: aquaculture, hothouse vegetable growing, wind power, garbage processing and so-called package tourism. Putin and Abe agreed that this year the Japanese delegation, consisting of officials and businessmen, will visit the island for the third time in order to study on-site the possibility of implementing joint projects.

However, the stumbling block in this direction is still the question of whose legal basis to carry out such activities. The Japanese side insists that it should not be implemented on the basis of Russian laws, because this would mean Japan's recognition of Russia's sovereignty over the islands that Tokyo considers its northern territories. To carry out such activities, Tokyo proposes to create a special legal regime that would not damage any country's sovereignty over the islands. Apparently, it was not possible to get around this obstacle even during the May talks between Putin and Abe, although the Japanese experts in this respect placed great hopes on them. True, the leaders of Russia and Japan agreed on a visa-free trip to the islands by the airline of their former Japanese residents to visit the graves of their ancestors, as it was last year.

This news was positively evaluated in Japan, however, the lack of progress in resolving the territorial issue, as well as the results of Abe's visit to Russia as a whole, were met with disappointment by the Japanese media. So, according to the newspaper Hokkaido Shimbun, former residents of the disputed islands at their rally expressed regret at the lack of progress in the return of Japan's "four northern islands". The liberal newspaper Asahi Shimbun also notes that at the talks between Putin and Abe, even a hint of a forward-looking settlement of a long-standing bilateral dispute over the northern territories was not found.

A long editorial article titled "The Benefits of Russian-Japanese Cooperation Must Lead to Progress in Territorial Negotiations" was published by Japan's largest newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun. In it, in particular, it is said: "The Prime Minister at the summit in December 2016 tried to develop a" road map "for the solution of the territorial range. However, the reality is that since then there has been no smooth progress as we would like to ... Two countries are at a deadlock regarding a "special system" on which joint economic activity will be built, as Russia persistently applies its domestic legislation to this activity . The adoption of Russia's approval means recognition of its sovereignty over the northern territories, something that Japan can not accept. "

A number of publications criticize Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his policy of a "golden mean" between Russia and its sanctions and other means of pressure from Western countries in an attempt to obtain territorial concessions from Moscow. In this regard, the Japan Times unequivocally asserts: "The results of the recent talks between the Japanese and Russian leaders have strengthened the view that Tokyo is trapped in constant balancing in its relations with Moscow, which faces growing hostility with the West."

The same newspaper publishes an analytical article by the associate professor of the Department of Political Science at Temple University in Tokyo and a specialist in Russian-Japanese relations, James Brown, under the characteristic title "Abe's trip to Russia underscores his foreign policy failures." The publication states that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned mostly empty-handed from a four-day visit to St. Petersburg and Moscow, including a disappointing summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The expert believes that Abe's last trip to Russia was conceived as the culmination of his so-called "new approach," the 2016 initiative, which aims to provide economic incentives to ensure progress in resolving the long-standing territorial dispute between the two countries over the southern Kuril Islands (Northern Territories in Japan). The timing of the visit was also considered favorable, as he followed shortly after Putin was re-elected president of Russia in March. Since this is supposedly the last term of Putin, Abe's administration believed that now he might be more inclined to consider unpopular territorial concessions.

However, James Brown states, the Japanese leader could not reach an agreement on the legal framework for conducting joint economic activities on disputed islands. This, according to Brown, along with the scandals that involved Shinzo Abe, will further lower his rating and calls into question the prospects for re-election the chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the elections in September this year and, accordingly, the extension of his stay in the Prime Minister's chair for the third record term.

True, Abe himself does not think so and plans to participate again in the same month in the next Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok 11-13 September. There he intends to continue the dialogue with Putin about the current problems of relations between Russia and Japan.
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