Japan needs strategy for northern claims
Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, agreed during their recent meeting held in Sochi, a resort in southern Russia, to continue talks on the disputed northern territories between their top leaders, foreign ministers and vice foreign ministers.
Japan and Russia have not yet developed an environment in which they can make progress on the territorial issue. Priority should be given to building a relationship of mutual trust between the leaders of the two countries through various discussions.
At the meeting, Gemba again expressed his regret over Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's second visit to Kunashiri Island, one of the islands in the northern territories, earlier this month. It is also reasonable that Gemba told Lavrov that both countries need to pay due consideration to public sentiment in holding territorial talks.
Lavrov said Russia would continue discussions with Japan calmly and unemotionally, but added Russian leaders would continue to visit the northern territories.
However, there is a critical problem. We cannot allow Moscow to ignore Tokyo's intention and enhance its effective control over the northern territories based only on its own logic.
It is questionable how deeply Moscow understands the seriousness of Japan's protest. Russia might be taking unfair advantage of the current instability in the Japanese government.
"Japan would like to solve [the territorial issue with Russia] based on agreements and documents between the two countries, and on the principles of law and justice," Gemba said.
However, there are differences in the interpretation of basic ideas such as "the principles of law and justice" between Japan and Russia. Tokyo must find solutions to overcome such differences.
Gemba also held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin highly praised the current economic development situation between Japan and Russia.
"We must think about what we can and should do," he said, expressing hope for further development of economic cooperation between the two countries.
In fact, economic relations between Japan and Russia have been deepening. It is notable that an increasing number of Japanese companies have engaged in oil and natural gas development projects in Sakhalin and in the auto industry in other parts of Russia. Japan's trade with Russia reached a record US$30.7 billion in 2011. Enhanced relations would benefit both nations. The relationship may become more significant in dealing jointly with North Korea's nuclear development; China, which has been increasing its economic and military strength; and other international issues.
"We would like to continue [territorial] negotiations [with Japan] to seek a mutually acceptable solution," Putin was quoted as telling Gemba.
Though his true intention is not clear, Putin seems to have expressed his willingness to settle the territorial dispute.
How should the government deal with Putin's administration, which places importance on the Asia-Pacific region, to find a clue to solve the territorial issue? Tokyo must rethink its Russia strategy.
The government should use every resource available in Japan to deal with Russia, including the dispatch of former prime minister Yoshiro Mori, who has a good relationship with Putin, to Russia.