Japan’s Foreign Minister begins Moscow trip on Sunday

Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (right) with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov [Xinhua]

File photo: Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (right) with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov [Xinhua]

Russia and Japan are set to discuss the historic territorial dispute between the two sides in an official meet in Moscow.

Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is headed to Russia on Sunday for three-day talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.

Kishida and Lavrov plan to discuss bilateral and international cooperation, including a peace treaty and economic collaboration, according to separate statements by both Foreign Ministries.

The Japanese Foreign ministry said Kishida plans to touch upon the issue of “solution to the problem of the Northern Territories” (known in Russia as the ‘Southern Kurils’).

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement earlier of Friday said the ministers will exchange views on “the whole range of bilateral agenda and also will focus on topical international issues of mutual interest”.

“Issues related to the negotiation process aimed at conclusion of the peace treaty are on the table. The Russian side clearly accentuates that the promotion in this aspect cannot be possible if Japan fails to recognize the post-war historic realities,” said the Russian Foreign Ministry.

In 2013, Russia and Japan had set up a joint investment platform of $1 billion as a new instrument to boost bilateral investment, with a major focus on Russia’s Far East and Eastern Siberia.

Cooperation in oil and gas spheres and joint development of East Siberia are also on the agenda of the ministerial-level talks.

Russian-Japanese relations have been strained by a long-running territorial dispute over a set of islands in the north Pacific that Russia call the ‘Southern Kurils’ and Japan call the ‘Northern Territories’.

The four disputed islands – Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai – were occupied by Soviet forces at the end of World War II and are still claimed by Japan.

Owing to the dispute, the two states never signed a permanent peace treaty following the end of World War II.

Russia’s proposal for operating joint projects in the disputed islands was turned down by Japan amid fears that this may undermine Japan’s claims on the islands.

The Japanese government is keen on accelerating talks on the territorial issue, according to reports in Japanese state media outlet NHK.

Earlier this month, Japanese Foreign Ministry protested Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov’s trip to one of the disputed islands, Kunashir.

“We have rejected that demarche by Japan, as Russian ministers may freely move along Russian territory in line with their official duties. They don’t need any permission of foreign states for that,” Sokolov responded.

However, during debates in the national parliament last month, Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe said Japan plans to continue dialogue with Russia to conclude a peace treaty.

“We intend to continue dialogue, as well as stable Russian-Japanese talks contributing to Japan’s state interests,” Abe said.

Japan is also locked in a territorial dispute with China over the Diaoyu islands, known as the Senkaku islands in Japan.

Meanwhile during his Moscow trip, Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida will also attend the ninth summit of the Russian-Japanese intergovernmental commission on trade and economy.

Japanese and Russian officials are trying to arrange a Putin-Abe September meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Lavrov and Kishida are also likely to discuss a possible visit by Putin to Japan, which was put off last year and has yet to be rescheduled.

To bring about such a visit, Japanese officials are hoping that Abe can directly invite Putin to Japan at the meeting in New York, said reports in the Asahi Shimbun.

Abe is struggling to maintain a balancing act as he tries to consolidate ties with Putin while toeing the Group of Seven (G7) line on Russian sanctions.

Japanese sanctions against Russia targeted leading arms exporters and limited operations with five Russian top banks, including Sberbank ,VTB, Gazprombank, Rosselkhozbank and VEB (Vnesheconombank).

Since taking office in December 2012 Abe has met with Putin seven times, including during Russia’s opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi last year.

At Japan’s initiative, Putin had a telephone conversation with Abe in June this year where they discussed bilateral ties as well as the crisis in Ukraine, said a Kremlin statement.




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