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Analysts: Russian-Japanese relations show signs of thawing

September 23, 2015, 18:24 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© ITAR-TASS/Yuriy Smituk

MOSCOW, September 23. /TASS/. The dialogue between Russia and Japan, which Tokyo froze a while ago, appears to have resumed. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Japan is about to take place after all in the foreseeable future, polled Russian experts said when asked about the main results of Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to Moscow. In the economy, bilateral relations keep developing, but not as intensively as Moscow would like them to. The reason is Russia remains committed to its original stance on the issue of the four South Kuril islands disputed by Japan.

Putin has accepted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s invitation to pay a visit to Tokyo. Japan is now to propose a date for the visit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after talks with his Japanese counterpart. Lavrov and Kishida agreed to resume the dialogue over a future peace treaty the two countries have not concluded since the end of World War II.

On Tuesday, Kishida attended a meeting of the joint Russian-Japanese inter-government commission for trading and economic issues. The delegations agreed to resume talks on easing customs procedures and get back to the idea of creating a "green corridor" in bilateral trade. Taking part in the negotiations were Japanese businesses, who discussed pharmaceutics, farming and energy projects.

"Kishida visit’s most important result is Japan confirmed its intention to welcome our president," senior lecturer at the oriental studies department of the Higher School of Economics, Andrei Fesyun, told TASS. "The Japanese foreign minister’s visit did take place in the end, although there had been some objections from the Japanese Foreign Ministry. The Japanese prime minister’s office eventually gained the upper hand. Strongly pro-American, the Japanese Foreign Ministry resisted the idea of Putin’s visit to Japan in various ways. Yet the prime minister managed to overpower the traditionalists."

The so-called territorial problem is a purely ideological matter, Fesyun believes. "Russia has now pushed ideology into the background. It does not refuse to discuss the territorial theme in principle. There still remains the group for the territorial problem and the negotiations may proceed. But Moscow believes these discussions should not overshadow other, more important matters."

"Even though the territorial problem is still there and Japan has in fact joined in the West in its criticism and sanctions against Russia, the two countries have been trying to add momentum to bilateral relations, which at the moment are stagnant," the head of the Japan Studies Centre at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Far East Institute, Valery Kistanov, has told TASS.

"At a certain point Japan was hesitant regarding Putin’s visit, which originally was to take place back in 2014," Kistanov said. "Eventually it managed to identify a solution somehow. Although no specific date has been set, it was confirmed that the visit remained on the agenda. This is very important, because, the Japanese believe, Russia noticeably tightened its stance regarding the Kuril islands. They remained undecided for quite a while and kept postponing the visit, but now they’ve got things going. Other problems are being settled slowly but surely. For instance, Kishida’s visit produced an agreement that the dialogue at the deputy minister level will be resumed."

It is likewise important, Kistanov said, that there has been a meeting of the trading and economic commission in which the heads of ten large Japanese corporations took part.

"In defiance of sanctions economic interests are gaining the upper hand over politics," he said.

Kistanov believes that Japan is interested in developing relations with Russia largely because it feels considerable isolation in Northeast Asia.

"There are major problems with China and with South Korea, let alone North Korea. Tokyo’s contacts with Russia are a clear message to Japan’s neighbors that even the most complicated problems can be negotiated."

"It is of paramount importance we are going ahead with the dialogue that was paused at a certain point," senior research fellow, of the Japan Studies Centre at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of the Far East, Viktor Kuzminkov, told TASS. "The foreign minister’s visit was postponed twice, but the Japanese have eventually made a decision to go ahead with it, which merely shows how interested in the dialogue with Russia Japan is. That interest is somewhat different from Russia’s, though. Moscow puts a far greater emphasis on the economy. But there will be no large-scale economic cooperation until Russia agrees to compromise on the territorial problem, which is very unlikely to happen. Kuzminkov predicts bilateral cooperation will stay limited for the time being.

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