Japan’s PM calls for ‘new era’ in relations with Moscow, wants economic ties boosted

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a meeting on the sidelines of Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, September 2, 2016. © Alexei Druzhinin
Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe has urged “a new era” to be established in relations between Moscow and Tokyo after talks with Russian President Putin at an economic forum in Vladivostok, as both states are still engaged in territorial dispute.

On Saturday, PM Abe called on President Putin to “take responsibility” to boost the bilateral ties, while talking to the Russian leader on the second and last day of a major economic forum in the Far Eastern Russian city of Vladivostok.

“Let us overcome all difficulties and leave the people of the next generation a world in which our two countries will reveal their powerful potential. Let's put an end to this abnormal situation, which lasted 70 years, and together launch a new era in Japanese-Russian relations,” Abe said.

Moscow and Tokyo have still not signed a peace treaty following the end of World War II. The key stumbling block remains the seizure of four Japanese islands by the Soviet Union during the last days of the conflict.

Over the past decades Tokyo repeatedly stressed that a peace treaty with Moscow is linked to handing back control of the territories. Russia maintains that the Soviet Union’s sovereignty over the island was internationally recognized under the agreements signed after the WWII. While addressing the issue, President Putin stressed that signing a peace deal remains a priority for both countries despite “different views” on the matter. “We are united in one – the problem should be solved,” he said.

Russian leader though noted that it should be done with full respect to the mutual interests.

“We need … a high level of trust, and we need such a formula, so that neither of the parties would feel itself a loser. It is a tough choice, but it can be done.” However Russia is “not talking about some exchange or some sale,” Putin  prior to summit in Vladivostok.

Relations between Moscow and Tokyo suffered an additional blow after Japan joined the ranks of the states imposing sanctions on Russia following the Ukraine crisis. In a bid to improve ties, Japan’s PM visited the Russian city of Sochi in May, where he made proposals, including the establishing of joint infrastructure in Russia’s Far East.

During the summit in Vladivostok Putin called the measure “the only right way,” for establishing bilateral relations, stressing that Japan and Russia are “natural partners.”
Abe has also addressed Japan’s financial representatives in Vladivostok, urging them to increase cooperation with Russia, according to TASS who cited the NHK broadcaster.

“Russian-Japanese relations now have the opportunity to develop,” the PM said, adding that he wants Japan to further facilitate this process.

During the gathering in Vladivostok, President Putin and PM Abe agreed to once again meet on December 15 in Japan. Resolving the territorial dispute and boosting economic cooperation is set to top the agenda of the gathering.

"No meeting in recent years has tested the ability of individual leaders like the December summit will," Japan’s Foreign Ministry representative said as  by the Nikkei news outlet.

However according to the outlet, who were citing a Japanese official, the territorial dispute is unlikely to “move forward immediately” after the visit.