日露首脳会談 「新アプローチ」で打開可能か

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Can new Japan-Russia approach break deadlock on northern territories issue?
日露首脳会談 「新アプローチ」で打開可能か

Can the latest talks between the Japanese and Russian leaders serve as the first step to a breakthrough in negotiations over the northern territories off Hokkaido, which have remained deadlocked over the decades?

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, southern Russia, and the two leaders agreed that they will vigorously proceed with negotiations on the issue using “an approach based on a new concept.”

“I got the sense that we can achieve a breakthrough in the stagnated situation,” Abe told reporters following the talks.

Even though details are unclear, the new approach is described as taking into consideration a global perspective — not just bilateral relations — and holding negotiations from a future-oriented standpoint.

It is not easy for Japan and Russia to make concessions on the territorial issue, as it concerns the sovereignty of each country. It is understandable that Tokyo and Moscow will look for compromises on this issue as they develop deeper cooperation on security, economic and many other issues based on a broader perspective.

The two leaders also agreed that they will have another meeting when Abe visits Vladivostok, Russia, in September. The two countries are said to further examine the timing of Putin’s visit to Japan.

It is extraordinary for a Japanese prime minister to make successive visits to Russia, which suggests how resolved Abe is over the territorial issue.

Political decision needed

Abe apparently believes that the issue cannot be solved unless he urges Putin, the most powerful figure in Russia, to make a political decision. Holding more bilateral talks with the president, including those to be organized on the sidelines of international conferences, is important in itself.

During the latest talks, Abe presented a plan comprising eight areas of cooperation, including energy development and building infrastructure in Russia’s Far Eastern region.

The Russian economy has remained sluggish mostly because of the fall in oil prices and the weaker ruble. Putin has put priority on promoting investment from and technical cooperation with Japan, in addition to the development of the Far East. Abe apparently aims to use his plan to pave the way to move the territorial issue forward.

Of course, economic cooperation alone cannot immediately achieve a breakthrough on the issue. We instead believe that the key will be for Japan to create a situation in which Russia puts real effort into boosting bilateral relations with Japan as Russia faces Chinese influences.

Putin is said to have become more concerned that China has been encouraging a large number of companies to start businesses in the Far East while expanding its military presence there.

During his talks with Abe, Putin expressed his hope for security cooperation between the two countries. It is of not small significance for Japan to improve cooperation with Russia to hold China and North Korea in check.

Concerning the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, it is appropriate that Abe urged Putin to play a constructive role by exercising his influence in maintaining ceasefires in those countries.

Abe will host the Ise-Shima summit meeting of the Group of Seven major powers on May 26-27. It will be important for the prime minister to elaborate his policy on pushing Japan-Russia relations forward without disrupting cooperation among the G-7 countries.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 8, 2016)

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