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Southern Kurils: while in the dialogue format

Putin and Abe spoke at the APEC summit on joint economic activities on disputed islands

10 November, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met on the margins of the APEC summit in the Vietnamese city of Danang. This was already the twentieth rendezvous of the two heads of state, taking into account their meetings during Abe's first prime time in 2006-2007. Against the backdrop of Putin's virtually collapsed summit with US President Donald Trump, the dialogue between the Russian and Japanese leaders is impressive for their duration. According to Japanese media, the conversation lasted about an hour, from within 15 minutes - face to face, in the presence of only translators.

Southern Kurils: while in the dialogue format
Photo by:

Valery Kistanov

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies
The President of the Russian Federation congratulated the Japanese Prime Minister on the victory of his party in the recent parliamentary elections. He said (quoted with punctuation on "First of all, I want to congratulate you, Shinzo, with a convincing victory in the elections. I hope that this will allow us to implement all our plans. " In addition, Putin expressed his joy at the progressive development of bilateral relations. He also noted the intensification of the political dialogue and the development of economic ties. At the same time, the Russian president made a reservation that there are always questions that require additional discussion.

In addition to the burning nuclear missile problem of the DPRK, at the meeting of the two leaders, the joint economic activity of Russia and Japan on the four islands of the southern Kuriles (Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai) underwent an "additional discussion". They claim Tokyo, calling their northern territories. The agreement on joint management in the disputed territories was reached during the official visit of the Russian president to Japan in December 2016. Since then, a dialogue has been held between the two countries at different levels and in different formats on the implementation of the decision of their leaders. However, apparently, the negotiations are not easy due to differences in the parties' target approaches to the said management.

At a press conference in Danang, after talking with Putin Abe said that they had agreed to accelerate the pace of preparation of joint economic programs on the islands, which are disputed by the two countries. As reported by the Japanese newspaper "Mainiti Shimbun" from 11 November, it was during this quarter of an hour that the problems associated with the disputed islands were intensively discussed. However, the details of the discussion by officials of both countries are not disclosed.

During the meeting between Putin and Abe, in early September of this year in Vladivostok on the margins of the Eastern Economic Forum five areas were identified in which joint projects will be implemented, and the two leaders agreed to start implementing them as soon as possible. These areas include fishing, tourism, wind energy, medicine and ecology. To familiarize with the situation on the site this year, southern Kuril Islands was visited by a delegation consisting of representatives of state structures and private business of Japan. In September, for the first time with the help of a charter flight, a visit was made to the former Japanese inhabitants of the graves of their ancestors. Putin and Abe agreed on facilitating procedures related to travel to the islands of these residents.

According to Abe, in Danang he agreed with Putin to accelerate the preparation of projects in the five listed areas for their implementation in the spring of next year.
In addition, Abe himself plans to visit Russia again in May of 2018. "Mainiti Shimbun" writes that Japan seeks to achieve visible progress in the implementation of projects as soon as possible, and both sides agreed to hold meetings of senior officials early next year. And by the end of this year, Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono can visit Russia.

At the same time, Japan still maintains critical assessments of how Russia and Japan are moving towards joint economic activities in the “northern territories”. The newspaper, published on the island of the same name, “Hokkaido Shimbun”, for obvious reasons, was the first to respond with its editorial to the meeting between Putin and Abe in Da Nang. In the November issue of 11, the newspaper notes that it was the twentieth meeting of the leaders of the two countries, but questions the relevance of the results of these meetings to their number.

"Hokkaido Shimbun" writes that both leaders agreed on the course for concretization of joint economic activity in the "northern territories" next spring. However, in her opinion, the real image of the "special system" that for Japan is a prerequisite of this activity is still not visible (under this system Tokyo means a certain "special regime", in which the laws of Russia and Japan do not operate in the southern Kuriles, EastRussia.). The publication regrets that the discussion of the legal framework for this activity at the level of deputy ministers was postponed to the beginning of the next year.

For Japan, the newspaper believes, the calculation is probably to more quickly specify the work, proceeding from the assumption that if the "special system" comes to the fore, it can cause opposition within Russia and frustrate consultations. However, the article says, the Russian side is aimed at conducting joint activities only on the basis of the laws of its own country. The newspaper expresses concern that due to the accelerated implementation of specific projects, this can become a fait accompli. For Japan, she emphasizes, it is important to confirm the ownership of the islands of Japan. In pursuit of short-term gains, one must not compromise principles - warns "Hokkaido Shimbun" in its lightning editorial.

The idea that Russia and Japan pursue different ultimate goals in joint economic activity in the southern Kuriles is sounded refrain in many other publications of Japanese media devoted to this activity. So, the Japan Times newspaper in the issue of October 31 puts an article about Tokyo's hopes that joint economic projects will pave the way for resolving a territorial dispute with Russia over several decades, while Moscow seeks only to attract Japanese investments to the underdeveloped islands next to Hokkaido. In the July 27 issue, the largest newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, also states: "While Japan hopes that joint economic activity will pave the way for the return of the northern territories, Russia intends to revive the economy there." The newspaper predicts that although the Russian government and the local residents of the four islands have high hopes for Japanese money as a means of economic revitalization on the islands, Russia will change its attitude when Japan touches on the topic of their return. There is still a big gap in the expectations of Japan and Russia - sums up the most newspaper newspaper in Japan.

By the way, Abe beat the topic of territorial dispute with Russia in the course of his campaign in the October parliamentary elections, with the victory of which Putin congratulated his Japanese counterpart. Speaking at a rally in Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido, bordering on the southern Kurils, he said that the return of the islands of Japan is a heartfelt desire of Japanese citizens, and the signing of a peace treaty between Tokyo and Moscow bears benefit for both sides. Abe also stated his determination to return these territories during the life of the present generation. Such a statement, it is believed, brought him many votes of Japanese voters, especially in Hokkaido, which is the center of the movement for the return of the "northern territories" in Japan.

As for the peace treaty between Russia and Japan, then, according to RIA Novosti, at a press conference in Da Nang, Putin said: “This is all part of our common plans. There are many issues on the peace treaty. It’s no secret that we should also see here what obligations Japan has with its partners in the sphere of defense and security, how it will affect the course of the peace process under the Russia-Japan peace treaty, what obligations Japan has, and what it can and cannot do do it yourself. "

As is known, earlier the Russian side had already raised the issue of the possibility of deploying American troops on the territory of the southern Kuriles in accordance with the Japanese-American security treaty in the event of the transfer of the islands of Japan. Official Japanese representatives did not deny this possibility.

Also in Danang, Putin said that negotiations on a peace treaty could take years. It should be borne in mind, however, that in fact, Japan does not need the treaty itself, which it has imposed on Russia for decades and which practically does not change anything in Russian-Japanese relations, but the South Kuril Islands themselves.

As a result of the victory in the mentioned parliamentary elections, Abe opens the prospect of re-election as the head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in September 2018 for the third time in a row and, for the first time in the history of Japan, to extend his stay in the Prime Minister's chair for the third term to 2021 years.

Few doubt that in Russia in March 2018, Putin will be elected for the next six years to the presidency of Russia for the next six years. Apparently, this was meant by the Russian leader when he said at the last meeting with Abe that his victory in the elections "would allow us to realize all our plans." It is not excluded, however, that everyone sees these plans in his own way.