Kuril talks spark numerous deals
Kurilsk’s central square in the Kurils. Source: Wikimedia
Ministers from Japan and Russia have discussed a number of economic cooperation deals that both sides claim will advance their bilateral relationship, trade and investment, while they might sign a peace treaty that would formally “end” the Second World War.
Russia and Japan still have no permanent peace treaty due to a dispute over the South Kuril islands, a desolate chain off northern Japan that was seized by Soviet forces in August 1945.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is hoping the islands will be returned to Japanese sovereignty and offers of friendship, technology and economic assistance might convince President Vladimir Putin to hand them back. Putin is scheduled to visit Japan next month for a summit with Abe in December. However, Putin’s offer is expected to fall short of Japanese expectations.
“To my mind, Russia is leading Japan on,” said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Philadelphia’s Temple University. “Putin will not cede those islands, but Moscow is dangling the possibility of revising the proposal that was discussed between the two governments in 1956 to return two of the islands, and that has raised Japan’s hopes. But I do not believe Putin has any intentions to go forward on either option.”
Japan has rejected the 1956 talks because it would mean abandoning its claim to larger islands that are part of the chain of islands that stretch north towards Russia’s large island of Sakhalin.
“Abe has met Putin more than any other foreign leader since he has been in office as part of his quixotic pursuit of the islands, and the Japanese side is watching very carefully to see what Russia wants and needs for the development of its Far East region,” Kingston added.
This month, the energy and economy ministers from Russia and Japan agreed to progress with numerous projects, including the joint development of oil and gas fields, the generation of wind power and cooperation in the decommissioning of Japan’s compromised Fukushima nuclear power installation.
There are also plans to lay of a 50km undersea cable across the Soya Strait from Hokkaido to Sakhalin to deliver energy from Russian thermal power developments at a cost of more than US$5.7 billion.
“Obviously, Russia does not want to rely too heavily on China while Japan does also not want Russia to be drawn into China’s sphere of influence, so in that respect this sort of economic cooperation and development is of mutual strategic interest,” explained Jun Okumura of the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs.
“And while this is undoubtedly linked to the question of the sovereignty of the northern isles, it is also more broadly part of the geopolitical game in the region.”
The US has therefore permitted Japan to hold talks with Russia while relations are strained over Syria, Ukraine and the Crimea.
Japan continues to be part of G7 sanctions on Russia which derailed previous momentum between the two countries on the Kuril Islands.