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INTERVIEW
SOLVING THE TERRITORIAL PROBLEM IMPROVES JAPAN-RUSSIA RELATIONSHIP
By Tomas Urbanec | Urbanec a Pavel, Consulting Company, the Czech Republic | Issue 3, 2017

Mr. Jiro Okuyama, Assistant Press Secretary, Director of the International Press Division, Ministry fo Foreign Affairs of Japan interviewed by Russkii vopros.

     To hear words about Japan - Russia relations from diplomats, and others, it is somehow automatically associated with problems of islands of Etrofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and Habomai. According to some sources, a certain progress was reached in this issue during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. If Russia decides to meet Japanese demands, President Putin will face the difficult task to persuade Russian citizens that returning these islands is not a step against Russian interests. What arguments would you use to persuade Russian citizens?

     Both the Governments of Japan and Russia are making all efforts to resolve the issue of where the Four Islands belong, which has been inherited from the past, and to conclude a peace treaty. The historical and legal facts that are the basis for a resolution of these issues, and the various documents that have been produced based on agreements between the two countries have all been compiled and published in the form of a joint compendium of documents by the foreign ministries of both countries.
     On the other hand, Japan is making efforts to advance wide-ranging relations, including cooperation in economic areas and in the international arena, recognizing that a truly stable Japan-Russia relations would not only benefit both countries, but would also contribute to peace and stability in the Northeast Asian region. On the occasion of the visit to Russia by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in January this year, the Japan-Russia Action Plan was announced, which provides a “navigational chart” for future Japan-Russia relations, summarizing the broad range of cooperation achieved thus far, and also setting our common guidance for further development of bilateral relations in all areas. The issue of the conclusion of a peace treaty is identified as an important pillar in the Action Plan. Through resolving the territorial issue and concluding a peace treaty, we will be able to raise Japan-Russia relations to a qualitatively new level, which would be of great benefit to Russia as well.

     Since we mentioned problems of President Putin of persuading Russian citizens, we also have to ask what is the opinion of Japanese society about building closer relations with Russia. Are Japanese citizens able to accept cultivation of intensive Japan – Russia relations without the return of the above mentioned islands?

     The Japan-Russia Action Plan was adopted as a means of promoting Japan-Russia relations as a whole, in a situation whereby, through the steady implementation of the Plan, each area of cooperation, including the issue of a peace treaty, will be undertaken, jointly and positively affecting other areas. The promotion of bilateral relations through the implementation of the Action Plan would form a good basis for negotiations of a peace treaty.
     On the other hand, the Northern Territories have never once in the past been a part of another country’s territory. They are an integral part of Japan’s sovereign territory, where 17,000 Japanese citizens lived until the Territories were illegally occupied by the Soviet Union. Therefore the return of the Four Islands is an earnest desire of the people of Japan. In order to raise Japan-Russia relations to a qualitatively new level, and create truly trusting bilateral relations, it is essential that the issue of where the Four Islands belong be resolved and a peace treaty concluded.

     The Action Plan states that “both sides support constructive efforts through dialogue by countries concerned to resolve all issues pertinent to the Korea Peninsula from the perspective of the vital necessity of easing tensions on the Korea Peninsula and maintaining and enhancing the peace and stability of Northeast Asia.” Regarding this issue, do you consider it a space for joint Japanese-Russian activities, or is Japan rather going to rely on traditionally good Russia – North Korea relations when easing the tensions in this region?

     As major countries in Northeast Asia, both Japan and Russia hold a strong interest in the peace and stability of the region, and Japan exploits various opportunities to consult closely with Russia on issues concerning the Korean Peninsula.
     In the recent summit meeting, we also have succeeded in sending a clear message to North Korea and the international community concerning Japan-Russia cooperation and coordination regarding the issue of North Korea.
     Specifically, it was on the day of the summit meeting that North Korea announced its intention to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and on that very same day, the leaders of Japan and Russia immediately expressed their deep regret and grave concerns regarding North Korea’s announcement to withdraw from the NPT, confirming that they would endeavor to urge North Korea to promptly retract such a decision and work towards a peaceful resolution of the issue. In addition, Prime Minister Koizumi pointed out that it was important for various concerns between Japan and North Korea such as the abduction of Japanese nationals and security issues to be resolved, and for diplomatic relations between the two countries to be normalized. In response to Prime Minister Koizumi’s request for cooperation from the Russian side, the Russian side stated that they would cooperate to the greatest extent possible.
     The relevant parts of the Japan-Russia Action Plan that you have pointed out reflect such Japan-Russia cooperation, including the interaction at the summit-level, that has taken place to date.

     Russia needs investments, and Japan has potential sources that are not used so far. Also the numbers concerning mutual trade (1/40 of trade with the U.S. and 1/20 of China) clearly show enormous potentials. What are the main reasons for this situation?

     As you have pointed out, bearing in mind the geographical proximity of Japan and Russia, the rich natural resources of the Russian Far East and Siberia, and the high standard of science and technology in Russia, there is immensely high potential for Japan-Russia cooperation in economic areas. The economies of Japan and Russia are in a mutually complementary relationship, and cooperation in economic areas would tremendously benefit both sides.
     On the other hand, various reasons have been suggested for the current situation in which economic relations between Japan and Russia are not sufficiently developed, namely, the insufficiency of investment environment in Russia from the view point of tax and legal systems and the stability of their implementation, or the current condition of the Japanese economy. However, it can be regarded that the continued situation in which a peace treaty has not been concluded has psychologically cast a shadow over the development of bilateral economic relations.

     Talking about Japan – Russia economic relations, there is usually only one point of view, e.g. what are or will be Japanese economic activities in Russia. Are there any examples of Russian economic activities in Japan?

      Although there are currently no large-scale Russian business activities in Japan, there is great potential in the economic areas between Japan and Russia, and with favorable economic growth in Russia, and the progress of economic reforms, it could be expected that more Russian businesses will be advancing into the Japanese market.

     There is one more global player on the field where Japan and Russia have their interests – China. What is the current relationship situation in this “triangle”, and how could these relationships develop in future?

     Japan considers that it is very important for China to gain political and social stability and combine its mutual interests with the international community for the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region as well as the international community as a whole, given China’s population of more than 1.3 billion and rapid economic growth that has been witnessed in recent years. On that basis, when we consider the peace and prosperity of Northeast Asia, the Asia-Pacific and the international community in the 21st century, Japan considers it important to build favorable and stable relations over the mid- to long-term with China and also with Russia, the United States and other related countries.

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