The foreign ministerial talks between Japan and Russia were held in Moscow. It has marked the first meeting since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe named Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Russian President Vladimir Putin named his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to be in charge of peace treaty negotiations.
Both Abe and Putin had agreed that the two countries would accelerate the bilateral negotiations on the basis of the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration stipulating that two of the four northern islands – the Habomai group of islets and Shikotan – be handed over to Japan. The foreign ministers, while paying regard to that agreement, must strive to advance the negotiations steadily. Yet Russia’s position on the bilateral talks over the northern territories is highly questionable.
Following his meeting with Kono, Lavrov told reporters that unless Japan recognises the outcome of World War II, it would be difficult to count on any progress on other issues. By saying this, Russia has demanded that Japan recognise the four northern islands as legitimately Russian territories.
In the closing days of World War II, the then Soviet Union unilaterally violated the Japan-Soviet Neutrality Pact to enter into the war against Japan. Later, the Soviet Union occupied the four islands unlawfully. The Russian assertion that distorts these historical facts is unacceptable.
Lavrov also claimed that it is Japan that has neglected to implement the joint declaration. But it was the Soviet Union, which opposed the revision of the Japan-US Security Treaty that changed its position and claimed that territorial issues have already been settled.
Following the ministerial meeting, Kono said that the Japanese side clarified its position to Russia, while declining to disclose specifics of the talks. It is important to resolutely refute an unreasonable claim. The Japanese government needs to explain, both at home and abroad, accurate historical facts concerning the territorial issue.
Lavrov’s remarks may be aimed at advancing the negotiations to Russia’s advantage, but isn’t it unproductive to continue arguing over how the whole thing came about?
With regards to the peace treaty, the foreign ministers need to work out the details of diverse tasks, including the issues of how the restoration of the islands to Japan should proceed, how the waters surrounding the islands should be dealt with and how those Russian residents on the islands should be treated. By sincerely holding talks, both sides need to find common ground.
Both the Japanese and Russian governments have been deepening their economic cooperation in recent years. Japan has participated in Russia’s oil and natural gas development projects. It is significant for both countries to aim at promoting Russia’s industries, while at the same time having such endeavours lead to Japan stably securing energy resources.
In order to invigorate investment by companies and their business activities on the northern islands, both countries have amended the tax treaty, thus realising the reduction of and exemption from taxes.
Russia’s economy has been in the doldrums due to sanctions imposed by countries in Europe and North America. Russia apparently hopes to see its economic relations with Japan advance. It is important for the Japanese government to amass bilateral cooperation in a multifaceted way with Russia, thus developing an environment for both countries to solve the territorial issue.