ROAR: “Trusting relationship unlikely to solve main problem for Russia-Japan”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
As the incoming Japanese prime minister is looking for new ways to resolve a territorial dispute with Russia, his son is helping Moscow’s mayor to eliminate traffic jams in the city.

Yukio Hatoyama, Japan’s next prime minister, considers building “trusting relations” with the Russian leadership “the key” to solving the dispute over the Southern Kuril islands. The chain of four Pacific islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan and incorporated by the Soviet Union in 1945, is still the main thorn in Russia-Japan affairs.

The grandfather of Japan’s new leader was the first head of Japanese government to visit the USSR. In 1956, Ichiro Hatoyama concluded the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration, which ended the state of war. However, Moscow and Tokyo have not signed a formal peace treaty ever since because of the dispute over the islands.

The 1956 declaration stated that the two countries would work towards resolving the issue of the Kuril islands. Now Yukio Hatoyama is hoping his grandfather’s contribution to improving relationship between Moscow and Tokyo will help him to move forward with his own initiatives.

“Hatoyama has said that he would like to continue his grandfather’s cause and invigorate ties with his country’s closest neighbor,” Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily wrote. Japan's incoming prime minister heads the Japan-Russia association, and he has been in Moscow several times, the paper wrote.

His 33-year-old son Kiitiro reads lectures at the Higher Business School at Moscow State University and works for Moscow’s Institute for Complex Strategic Studies, Russian media have reported. Kiitiro is involved in a big city engineering project dedicated to reducing traffic jams in the Russian capital, Kommersant daily wrote.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow was ready to establish “constructive cooperation with the new government in Japan “in the interest of further development of Russian-Japanese relations, in particular, in trade and economic cooperation.”

However, many Russian politicians and analysts are not as optimistic as Hatoyama about the prospects for resolving the territorial issue. Moscow’s relations with Tokyo are unlikely to change significantly under Hatoyama, Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, said.

“Japan’s next leader seems to be more flexible and more informed about the overall context of Russia-Japan relations,” Kosachev told Rossiyskaya Gazeta. “But at the first stage of his work [as prime minister] he will probably be limited in his efforts by the conservatism of Japanese society.”

“Everything will depend on his persistence in implementing the line to change our relations that he has declared,” Kosachev said.

Hatoyama will work to ease tension in relations between Moscow and Tokyo after Japan’s parliament approved amendments in June to the legislation on solving the dispute, Aleksey Makarkin, vice president of the Center for Political Technologies, said. The Southern Kuril islands were declared “original Japanese territories” in the document.

The Russian Foreign Ministry then called the move of parliamentarians “unacceptable.” The State Duma, in its turn, said that all efforts to resolve issues of the peace treaty would make sense only after Tokyo disavows the controversial legislation.

“Hatoyama was among those who supported the amendments,” Makarkin wrote on the politcom.ru website. “The demand for returning the four islands is a consensus for Japan’s political elite, and [the Democratic Party] has the same stance,” he added.

There is only a difference in methods, and Hatoyama believes that it is possible to make agreements with Russia on concrete issues, Makarkin said. One of these issues might be an agreement on the economic activities on the disputed islands, or “business first,” Makarkin added.

The territorial dispute under Hatoyama may be “less emotional,” but will still be complicated, Makarkin stressed. “The more so because the absolute majority of Russians are against territorial concessions to Japan,” he added.

According to a poll conducted by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) in July, 89% of respondents were against the handover of Kurils to Japan. Only four percent are ready to return the islands. “The number of those who oppose the handover has only increased, in 1994 some 76% of respondents were against it,” Makarkin stressed.

At the same time, the level of relations between Russia and Japan “is fairly high in many fields, including political, diplomatic, economic and cultural ones,” Viktor Pavlyatenko, analyst at the Center of Japanese Studies in the Far East Institute, said.

“The problem of Japan’s territorial claims is an exception, and progress here is unlikely, because the position of the Democratic Party of Japan is similar to that of [the former ruling] Liberal Democratic Party,” Pavlyatenko told Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily.

Hatoyama’s grandfather took responsibility upon himself and signed an agreement with the USSR, “which stipulated the handover of only two islands, and had to resign,” Pavlyatenko noted. “The present leader of the Democratic Party of Japan is not ready to do the same,” he stressed.

Japan’s new prime minister will meet Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh on September 24-25. Observers are expecting new initiatives from Hatoyama. Vremya Novostey daily quoted him as saying that “the cold war is over, but we still live in the format of that war.”

He added that in his constituency on the north of Japan “tanks stand, still ready to resist a Russian invasion.” Hatoyama also stressed that there are many opportunities in the Russia-Japan relationship, “which so far have been missed,” the daily wrote.

Russia should not wait for “revolutionary changes” from Hatoyama, many analysts warn. At the same time, the new prime minister will try to establish close relations with the Russian leadership, Valery Kistanov, head of the Center of Japanese Studies in the Far East Institute, told Vremya Novostey.

However, history shows that “even trusting relations do not make it possible to solve the territorial problem, because it is too difficult,” Kistanov said. However, in other fields the cooperation may be more intense, “including in the military sphere,” he added.

Hatoyama understands that Moscow “occupies a disproportionately small place in Japan’s foreign policy strategy,” Kistanov said. The new prime minister will try to pay more attention to relations with Russia, the analyst added.

Sergey Borisov, RT