By Yoshio Hanada and Makiko Yanada / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers VLADIVOSTOK, Russia — Japan and Russia on Thursday narrowed down to five the fields in which they aim to realize joint economic activities in the northern territories at an early date. The Japanese side has emphasized that they succeeded in presenting specific projects less than one year after the two countries agreed, in December last year, to launch bilateral talks on joint economic activities. However, there are no indications of Russia easing its tough stance on the issue of the northern territories, for which the activities are expected to boost progress.
At a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin after their talks, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proudly said, “A new approach to overcome the past, which has undergone no change for more than 70 years, will be translated into reality.”
The five fields in which the two countries agreed to implement joint economic activities at an early date include marine product propagation and aquaculture projects, greenhouse vegetable cultivation, and the development of sightseeing tours.
These fields were chosen based on their feasibility and local needs while taking into account fact-finding surveys conducted by public-private teams this summer.
In addition, to ensure safety in maritime traffic, the two countries also agreed to consider repairing a lighthouse on Kaigara Island in the Habomai islets, part of the northern territories.
From here on out, the Japanese and Russian governments will establish working groups of officials at the bureau chief level to discuss details such as the locations in which to implement these projects.
They will then design a “special system” that does not harm either nation’s legal position in each project.
Russia aims to shake Japan
But the two countries will likely face tough negotiations. While Japan cannot accept Russia’s “sovereignty” in matters of authority such as taxation and policing, Russia demands the joint economic activities be implemented under Russian law.
In August, the Russian government approved the establishment of a special economic zone (SEZ) in the Shakotan, or Malokurilskoye, district on Shikotan Island in the northern territories. There is a possibility that Russia will propose joint economic activities in the SEZ in the future.
The Japanese side is cautious about such moves, with a source close to the Foreign Ministry saying, “We cannot accept any framework based on Russian laws even if it is an SEZ.”
Meanwhile, Russia is trying to shake Japan by hinting at the possibility of companies from third-party countries doing business in the northern territories.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev, who oversees the development of Russia’s Far East, on Monday pulled Japan up short by saying to Russian media that foreign countries, including China, have shown interest.
At the Eastern Economic Forum, a close Putin aide was seen calling on South Korean companies to operate businesses or make investments in the northern islands.
Even if joint economic activities are realized after a “special system” that both Japan and Russia can accept is fully arranged, there is no guarantee that negotiations over the territorial issue and for a peace treaty will go smoothly.
Many believe that the Putin administration will remain in power even after the Russian presidential election in March next year.
Considering it is difficult for Putin to make a political decision on the territorial issue before the election, the Japanese government is envisaging a scenario in which concrete steps toward joint economic activities are taken as soon as possible and peace treaty negotiations are advanced in earnest after the election.
But Russia is promoting the establishment of infrastructure in the northern territories, and there are no signs that it will hand over the territories to Japan.
According to Andrey Fesyun, associate professor at Russia’s National Research University Higher School of Economics, there is no room for Russia to make concessions to Japan in the territorial issue either before or after the presidential election.
56 accords in medicine, energy
Taking the opportunity of the talks between Abe and Putin in Vladivostok, the two nations exchanged a total of 56 memorandums of cooperation or documents for agreements in such fields as information technology, medicine and energy development.
These accords are aimed at expanding business opportunities for Japanese companies and promoting human resource development in Russian companies, among other purposes.
Of them, 48 deals involve public-private cooperation. Medical equipment maker Olympus Corp., a Russian national university and others will cooperate in the field of endoscopes.
Mitsui & Co., Ltd. will cooperate with Russian companies, local governments and others in such areas as small-scale liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects and wind power generation. Hitachi, Ltd. exchanged a memorandum of cooperation to establish a joint venture to manufacture railway vehicle parts.
At the government level, the two nations will cooperate under eight such agreements, which involve measures to improve the productivity of Russian companies through the utilization of IT and expand exchanges between people.Speech