The Yomiuri ShimbunIt is important to make use of the stable base of the administration to invite cooperation from Russia in moving forward with the territorial talks and halting North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vietnam. It was the 20th meeting between them.
Putin offered his congratulations to Abe on the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s landslide victory in the House of Representatives election, saying, “I hope this will help us implement all our plans.”
There may be a shade of diplomatic niceties here. But it is certain that the greater the unifying power both leaders enjoy at home, the easier it will be for them to make tough decisions.
With regard to joint economic activities on the four islands of the northern territories, Abe and Putin agreed to accelerate the discussion on five project areas that the two leaders agreed on during their talks in September, including aquaculture and tourism.
The outcome of the joint economic activities will affect the future course of the territorial talks. Steadfast negotiations will be required.
Putin is slated to face a presidential election next March. Although his reelection is considered certain, it is hard to expect any major political decisions will be made before the election. Abe plans to visit Russia in May, after the presidential election, and will aim to reach a concrete agreement with Putin.
The governments of Japan and Russia are expected to hold a foreign ministerial meeting in Russia this month. They will also hold a working group meeting on the framework of the joint economic activities within this year.
Protect both legal positions
The Russian side insists on having its domestic laws applied to the joint activities, making it difficult for both sides to find common ground. It is important not to abandon the premise that the legal positions of both sides on such matters as police and taxation powers should not be impaired.
In late September, former Japanese residents of the islands and their families visited their relatives’ graves on Kunashiri and Etorofu islands for the first time by air. Compared to traveling by ship, the time needed for such visits was reduced markedly by flying, helping lessen the burden on former residents of the islands who are advanced in age.
It is appropriate that both leaders, during their talks, confirmed the continuation next year of former Japanese islanders flying to the northern territories to visit their relatives’ graves.
It is hoped that both sides will discuss positively the idea of also enabling the former islanders to have a full-scale overnight stay there, together with enabling them to increase their visits to the islands.
Regarding the response to the North Korean situation, Abe emphasized to Putin that “in order to denuclearize North Korea, it is essential for the sanctions resolutions of the U.N. Security Council to be fully implemented.”
It is a matter of course that Japan has asked Russia, a country that has deep ties with North Korea, to assume a greater role in this regard.
Russia has deployed its unique diplomacy: having its parliamentary members visit North Korea and inviting high-ranking North Korean officials to Russia. However, Russia is cautious about reinforcing sanctions on Pyongyang, insisting that the North Korean issue be solved through dialogue.
Using the summit-level relationship of trust as a lever, Abe must continue pointing out to Russia the necessity of applying pressure on Pyongyang that may lead to policy change.