Ahead of President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Japan and his meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in December of this year, a number of government officials and representatives of major Japanese companies visited Moscow.
Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Minister of cooperation with Russia on economic matters, Hiroshige Seko told TASS what projects both the Russian and the Japanese sides are preparing for signing during the presidential visit, what impact Western sanctions have on the cooperation between Russia and Japan, and why Voronezh was chosen for the Russian-Japanese pilot project on urban environment improvement.
- During the course of your visit, you held a number of meetings with Russian partners. What issues did you discuss at the meetings?
- Today, I had a meeting with the Minister of Economic Development Alexei Ulyukaev, as part of the first meeting of a high level Working Group, on the specification and implementation of cooperation plans between Japan and Russia.
Ten representatives of various Japanese ministries at deputy minister level took part in the meeting. In addition to them, six senior executives of leading Japanese companies were also present.
The Russian delegation consisted of highest level ministry heads, as well a the heads of several Russian companies. A very substantial discussion took place within the three hour meeting. Both the Russian and the Japanese side prepared lists of important joint projects.
As a result of our work today, we selected about 30 priority projects, which we will explore in an expedited manner, so that by the second week of December, that is, by the arrival of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Japan, we would be able to show a certain result.
Aside from that, Minister Ulyukaev and I agreed today that we will meet next in Lima, Peru as part of the meeting of representatives of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries.
At the next meeting we will have to determine the next steps for the implementation, and specification of all aspects of our cooperation plan. The plan consists of 8 points. During the meeting with First Deputy Prime Minister Shuvalov, we spoke about all those aspects.
Mr. Shuvalov and I confirmed that the discussion of these cooperation aspects will be on the agenda of the intergovernmental commission, that will be held in mid-November. Also, during the meeting with First Deputy Prime Minister, we spoke in detail about specific projects.
- What are your expectations for the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Japan? Will it be possible to sign the agreements on priority projects that you talked about today during the visit?
- The Japanese place great hopes for this visit, the first official visit of the Russian President to Japan in 11 years. I have to say that our people earnestly wish for the two leaders, Vladimir Putin and Shinzo Abe to be able to discuss all issues with an open soul.
Our people earnestly wish for the two leaders, Vladimir Putin and Shinzo Abe to be able to discuss all issues with an open soul
I am confident that the two leaders will address all relevant issues, whether it's political issues or other matters. Economic cooperation should have an important place among these topics, and I am responsible for just that.
I have to fill this meeting with worthy content on economic issues, that is why we are preparing about 30 projects, so that in the presence of the two leaders of as many companies as possible could sign the proper documents.
- What sectors of the economy are you preparing projects in?
- Among these 30 projects, there are projects related to the creation of the urban environment, projects related to medical equipment, industrial diversification and advanced technologies.
Since many of them are in the negotiation process with the interested companies, I cannot name them, but I will talk about some of them. For the pilot project on creating a better urban environment, we, together with a Russian partner have chosen the city of Voronezh.
Regarding the diversification of the Russian industry, we agreed on the following: we will choose about 10 or 12 Russian factories, which are located in several regions across Russia. Japanese experts will assess the performance at these plants and suggest improvement measures.
In addition, we agreed to invite over 100 heads of various floor shops of Russian factories to Japan for training.
- Why did you choose Voronezh for the Russian-Japanese pilot project? Is it possible that one of the future meetings between the representatives of Russia and Japan will be held in that city?
- Urban planning experts on both sides compared different Russian cities in terms of population or in terms of problems that the city has to deal with, and chose the city where it is most necessary or useful to implement Japanese technology. The overall assessment showed that Voronezh is suitable as the first pilot city. There were no political reasons here.
- Recently there was information that the Japanese JBIC Development Bank approved its first loan to the Russian Sberbank, which is under Western sanctions. How do you see the development of the relations in the banking sector between Russia and Japan, and what amount of funding could come out in the near future from the Japanese banks and development institutions?
- First of all, I want to say that JBIC is a very important tool for the Japanese government, which should work well in instances when Japanese companies to invest abroad.
In that regard, JBIC should play an important role in the cooperation implementation on all 8 points. Naturally, we cannot force JBIC to take steps that would violate sanctions. But there are ways that banks can interact without violating sanctions. There are various banks in Russia, including regional banks, I think that we will find the right mechanism for cooperation.
- That is to say that the Russian regional banks will be able to obtain financing from JBIC and other Japanese banks?
- We believe that this possibility exists here. There is also another possibility that JBIC will create an investment fund. But as of today, I cannot say which projects JBIC will finance and in what amount.
today I can not tell which JBIC will finance projects, and have some of this funding will scale.
- We know that the issue of the "northern territories" is a very sensitive one for the Japanese people, and very often it remains outside the brackets of economic discussions. However, has the possibility of the joint development of the Kuril Islands or the joint development of the other areas of the Far East been discussed during your meetings?
- As you correctly pointed out, I am responsible for the economic cooperation, which is beyond the scope of the said question. I have to achieve a good result in the development of economic cooperation between our two countries.
But at the same time, I must say that I hope that when the Japanese-Russian economic cooperation will be on a good level, it will certainly have a positive impact on the process of negotiations on the level of Foreign Ministers and on the course of the conversation during meetings between our Prime Minister Abe and President Putin, so that they can talk about an important topic in a good atmosphere, for example, about an international treaty between the two countries.
- When you say “joint development" I am not sure what you mean be “development.” I don’t know for sure, but I can venture a guess what you had in mind when you were answering that question.
- This time we touched on the issues related to the joint creation of new industries and infrastructure in the Far East. That conversation took place.
- How much do the sanctions against Russia interfere with the development of the Russian-Japanese relations and what are you expectations about the sanctions?
- As we know, any economic cooperation, which will be carried out by us, should take place in a way that it will not violate the sanctions. I have to answer your question this way.
We see many opportunities to develop economic cooperation with Russia, which have nothing to do with sanctions
Despite this, we think that will be able to develop about 30 serious projects and provide some kind of result before the middle of December. And in regards to your question about the sanctions expectations, I as the Economic Minister cannot answer that question.
Although "sanctions" sound very harsh, not only Japan, but even America and the European Union have not fully prohibited economic relations with Russia. And we know that the US and the European countries continue economic cooperation with Russia in the area which is not subject to sanctions.
The same is true for Japan. We see many opportunities to develop economic cooperation with Russia, which have nothing to do with sanctions.
- How do you see the cooperation development in the energy sector, today you met with Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak. What was discussed at that meeting? Did you meet with representatives of Russian energy companies and are there new large-scale projects possible in this area for Japanese companies?
- As far as large-scale projects or otherwise, a negotiation process is under way right now, so I don’t have the right to announce something. This morning I met with the Minister Novak. We held the first meeting of the council that is called the Japanese-Russian Energy Initiative.
As far as large-scale projects or otherwise, a negotiation process is under way right now, so I don’t have the right to announce something
We agreed to establish three working groups. The first one on hydrocarbons, the second on energy conservation and renewable energy, and the third on nuclear power. We agreed on continue and expand cooperation on the development of hydrocarbon deposits in the first work group.
In the second was on the introduction of Japanese technology for wind energy generation in cold climates. The third - it is nuclear energy, here we talked about the cooperation on decommissioning the Fukushima-1 reactor.
- Did you discuss a visa-free deal between Russia and Japan. How far have these talks progressed and how possible is the introduction of the this deal in the near future?
- We are currently negotiating visa issuance simplification. In fact, this issue is solved on the principles of reciprocity, so Japan should also make an effort. We want to see as many Russian businessmen or tourists, I think that Russia does too. This issue is under discussion now.
Interviewed by Gleb Bryanskiy