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Expert: Energy cooperation with Russia is very important for Japan

August 30, 2016, 18:38 UTC+3 TOKYO

A Japanese expert believes diversification of imports of energy resources is crucially important

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© Stanislav Krasilnikov/ITAR-TASS

TOKYO, August 30. /TASS/. Cooperation with Russia in energy sector is very important for Japan considering instability on the Middle East and a rather slow revival of the national nuclear industry after the disaster at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant in 2011, Nobuo Tanaka, president of Japan’s Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF) said in an interview with TASS.

Speaking ahead of the second Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok Tanaka said:

"As you see, the current energy situation surrounding Japan has not been improved very well. Still nuclear power restarting has problems, only two or three reactors are running, the concern of the public is still there. The Middle East instability is certainly not improving very well."

Tanaka believes that low oil prices do not solve all problems of Japan, which is dependent in import if natural recourses.

"Currently the price of oil is still very low, but that does not necessarily mean that the future of energy is easy for Japan. We have to think about the risk of disruption in the Middle East," he said.

In this situation diversification of imports of energy resources is crucially important.

"Certainly we think that diversification of our sources of energy is very important and I still believe that Russia will play a very important role in diversification of Japanese energy sources," he said.

The expert expressed hope that the coming EEF will give opportunity to businessmen of both countries to discuss the future of bilateral cooperation.

In May, at the Russian-Japanese summit in Sochi Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed a plan for the development of co-operation, consisting of eight points. Among the areas of cooperation energy is especially important, the president of SPF said.

"Energy is one of the important areas. We could have many cooperation but energy is certainly of mutual interest," Tanaka said.

Tanaka who is also the former head of the International Energy Agency said that Russia is interested in markets of supply while Japan diversifies imports of natural resources.

"Russia is an exporter of energy, and Japan is an importer of energy, both have very mutually helpful and important issues to discuss," he said.

Japan’s companies should prepare for cancellation of sanctions

According to Tanaka, Japan’s company should be prepared for time when sanctions on Russia that limit bilateral cooperation to a certain degree will be lifted.

"I wish that Japanese companies should also prepare for the time when we may have more investment to Russia in energy sector," the expert said. Representatives of the private sector, including from Europe and the US, look forward to cancellation of restrictive measures in future, he said.

"I strongly hope that coming Vladivostok economic forum will provide a good opportunity for the better discussion or dialogue between players in Russia as well as in Japan," Tanaka said.

Sanctions against Russia are narrowing opportunities for bilateral cooperation in the energy sphere, the expert said. "Sanctions cover certain issues. I think connectivity of power gridlines, pipeline connection is not covered by sanctions. Even under the current sanction regime it is possible. We can do it at any moment. It's a very specific energy sector - difficult technologies, underwater gas development. These are the areas, which sanctions cover," he added.

"But especially financial sector in Japan is very concerned. European financial sector - the same thing. They are concerned about American financial sanctions. Even though the specific project may not be covered by sanctions, they are somehow reluctant and too cautious," Tanaka said.

Such situation will not last forever, the SPF President said. "Sanctions are always very political; they could be removed by different political reasons," he added.

Asian energy grid to support regional security 

Tanaka went on to say that implementation of the Asian Energy Ring project providing for integration of grid systems of Russia, China, Mongolia, the Republic of Korea and Japan will make a weighty contribution into the regional energy security.

"It is a very interesting point about this bridging power grid lines. There are several ideas. RusHydro is thinking about bridging Sakhalin to Japan. And there is another very interesting coming of Asian supergrid concept by Masayoshi Son from Softbank," the expert said.

Representatives of Russian Rosseti, China State Grid Corporation, Korea Electric Power Corporation and Japan’s Softbank Group signed a memorandum on joint promotion of an interconnected grid system covering the Northeast Asia in Beijing in late March 2016.

European nations have a similar experience relatively to the energy ring idea, Tanaka said. "By connecting gridlines to each other in the European states, they share the risk in case of disruption. Also this expanding of the market gives more enhanced use of renewable energy," the expert added. "Using more renewables, sharing the risks, Europe is trying to establish more sustainable and very secured energy market for the future," he said.

Such an experience can also be used in Russia, Tanaka said. "European model can be applied to the North East Asia. Russia is a major supplier, China is also supplier but also user, Korea and Japan are very isolated from the other part of the Asia, but connecting each other means sharing the risk of disruption," he added.

Such project should be economically feasible because investments of private companies will be needed, the expert said. At the same time, it also contains a geopolitical component, he said.

"This idea of connecting gridlines is certainly very innovative and very geopolitical," Tanaka said. "I think that a joint study like this collective energy security is a very important idea that we have to move ahead. And then the solution for the geopolitics may come later. I rather prefer that this kind of initiative is a very good start for the dialogue between countries and eventually it may pave the way for the better bilateral solutions for geopolitical issues," the expert said.

The energy ring idea is good not merely for the region at large but for Russian-Japanese relations in particular, Tanaka said. "Interconnectivity will provide the very important geopolitical integration of two countries and two economies and it paves the way for better political relationship in future," the expert said.

Russia will host the second Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on September 2-3.

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