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Hiroshige Seko: Russia-Japan economic ties gain unprecedented momentum

Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko in an interview with TASS
Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko Sergei Savostianov/TASS
Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko
© Sergei Savostianov/TASS

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will pay a visit to Russia on May 24-27. The schedule of his trip is going to be tight. On Friday, he will speak at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum and on Saturday, hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and attend a ceremony opening the Russia-Japan and Japan-Russia cross years. Among the officials accompanying Abe on his visit will be one of his closest associates – Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko, who also holds the position of minister for economic cooperation with Russia. This is what Mr. Seko told TASS in an interview about the purpose of the visit.


Mr. Minister, you are about to visit Russia, where you are slated to take part in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Could you please share some of your plans for this trip?

Yes, I am looking forward to taking part in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. The program of my stay in Russia is undergoing last-minute coordination at the moment. In any case, during my visit I would like to meet with my counterparts in the new Russian government that has just been formed under President Vladimir Putin’s guidance. I am going to establish relations with them with the aim to develop and expand economic relations between Japan and Russia.

— Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe-led government proposed an eight-point plan for cooperation with Russia. What efforts to implement this plan have achieved the greatest progress? What projects do you see as the most promising ones?

Japanese-Russian economic cooperation has gained unprecedented momentum. In all sections of the eight-point cooperation plan we can see transition from the “paper work” stage (that of preliminary coordination) to the “final shape” stage, having the form of specific contracts, etc.

For instance, great results have been achieved in spheres closely linked with improving Russia’s living standards. In the health service we cooperate in increasing life expectancy. In urban infrastructures we cooperate in creating a friendly environment, first and foremost, easing urban congestion and traffic jams.

As a government minister responsible for economic cooperation with Russia I am completing preparations for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to your country. We plan to carry out many joint projects. The people of our countries will be able to see their concrete results.

— What is the state of affairs in Russia-Japan energy cooperation? In particular, the development of resources on Sakhalin and the Yamal Peninsula?

Japanese-Russian energy cooperation is essential to diversification and stable supplies of energy to our country, bearing in mind Russia’s vast natural resources, their geographic proximity, etc. In addition to oil and natural gas, which are traditional spheres of cooperation, we have been systematically stepping up interaction in energy saving, renewable sources of energy, such as wind power and nuclear power, including the dismantling of the disabled Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant.

In Russia, there are quite a few oil and gas projects of interest to Japanese companies. For instance, Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 produce oil and liquefied gas. Consultations are in progress on commissioning a third unit of Sakhalin-2’s LNG plant. Japanese companies contributed to the Yamal LNG project, which I visited last month. For instance, the gas liquefying plant, which went operational at the end of last year. Consultations are in progress between Russian and Japanese firms over the concept of an LNG terminal in Kamchatka and the Arctic LNG-2 project.

— And what is Japan’s attitude to such major projects as a gas pipeline to your country or a transport tunnel that might link the two countries?

To dare launch such tremendously costly projects of national level decisions are to be made first about the participants and their feasibility, including technical feasibility. Potential demand or its absence and profitability are to be studied first. Moreover, it will be essential to raise support from our people, far greater than there exists at the moment and stretching farther into the future, regarding the common development of Japanese-Russian relations.

— How do you see the prospects for joint economic activity in the Southern Kuril Islands? What projects in this field do you find most promising? And what should be done, in your opinion, to address the legal issues joint economic activity might imply?

At their meeting in December 2016 the leaders of Japan and Russia expressed the determination to resolve the peace treaty issue and, alongside this, they agreed to start negotiations on joint economic activity in the northern territories in a way that would not jeopardize the legal positions of the two countries.

By now there have been consultations at different levels. Japanese missions have visited the four islands. When they met in September last year, the leaders of the two countries identified five potential projects for fast-tracked implementation – joint production of see food, greenhouse vegetable farming, tourism, wind power, and garbage disposal. Currently work is in progress on how to launch these projects as soon as possible in a way that would not contradict either country’s laws.

As a government minister I would like to refrain from anticipating the results of the forthcoming Japanese-Russian summit. But I do hope that the leaders of the two countries will be able to point to real progress made in implementing projects for joint economic activity.


Interviewer Vasily Golovnin