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MOSCOW, December 1. /TASS/. Japanese Prime Minister Sinzho Abe’s declared intention to conclude a peace treaty with Russia after resolving the territorial dispute is first and foremost addressed to the domestic audience on the eve of elections, polled experts told TASS. Some interpret this pledge as an attempt to put pressure on Moscow. Russia’s specialists on Japanese affairs see no shifts in Japan’s stance over the peace treaty issue, although some add that Abe is quite sincere about improving bilateral relations.
Sinzho Abe on Monday reaffirmed his intention to settle the territorial issue with Russia at a meeting with the mayor of the city of Nemuro, Shunsuke Hasegawa. “I shall resolve the problem of northern territories and conclude a peace treaty,” Abe said. “As a politician and prime minister, I wish to achieve it no matter what.”
The term “northern territories” is frequently used in Japan in relation to Russia’s South Kuril islands.
President Vladimir Putin last May said that Russia was keenly interested in resolving the Kuril Islands problem, but it has remained unclear to this day how to “achieve a draw.” Putin said that a future solution should constitute a reasonable compromise ensuring neither country should feel itself a loser.
This year, after Tokyo adopted sanctions against Russia and curtailed contacts at the political level, relations between the two countries got worse. “This is no choice of ours. The ball is in the Japanese court,” Putin said after a meeting of the Asia-Europe Summit in October.
Putin and Abe discussed the topic of the peace treaty again when they met in Beijing on November 9.
“In Japan, Abe is strongly criticized for a too mild policy towards Russia, for the sanctions not being harsh enough, and for doing nothing to promote a solution of the territorial dispute,” says Andrey Fesyun, a teacher at the oriental philology department of the Higher School of Economics. “His latest statement merely shows that he is prepared to work along these lines.”
Fesyun believes that there have been no real shifts in Japan’s stance so far. Nor would there be any in the near future. Japan is coming close to parliamentary elections and this foreign policy problem will be serving purely internal political purposes.
Whatever the case, Fesyun said, “Abe is one of the rare Japanese prime ministers, if not the sole one, who is genuine in his attempts to improve relations with Russia.” In defiance of US pressures, Japan preferred to take far easier sanctions against Russia than the European countries and “this is certainly a positive sign.”
“The statement was made in the run-up to elections to the lower house of parliament, and it is important for the prime minister to maintain contact with the electorate,” the head of the oriental studies department at the MGIMO university of international relations, Dmitry Streltsov, has confirmed. In his opinion, the latest Abe-Putin meeting in Beijing on November 9 showed the mutual desire to move forward and to go ahead with peace treaty talks.
Relations between the two countries have developed some favorable features of late. Japan’s sanctions are far milder than the restrictions taken by the Western counties, Streltsov said. “Tokyo is in no hurry to burn bridges, and it is doing its utmost to balance between the wish not to spoil relations with the United States and the need for maintaining a good relationship with Russia in view of the 'Chinese factor'. Also, Abe would like to go down in history as a politician who has signed a peace treaty with Russia," the expert noted.
“On the one hand, Abe’s statement is addressed to domestic audiences on the eve of the elections, but on the other hand, it is a tool of pressure on Russia,” says Viktor Pavlyatenko, deputy chief of the Japanese Studies Center at the Far Eastern Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In general, he believes that the Japanese tend to overestimate the importance of results achieved at bilateral meetings at the summit and other levels.
“President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Japan has not taken place to this day not because he did not want to go. The Japanese side has created conditions in which such a visit would be just impossible. As a matter of fact, Japan has not moved an inch away from its original peace treaty stance,” Pavlyatenko said.
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