5 things to know ahead of the Abe-Putin hot springs sum­mit Progress on a 70-year-old ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe will be the first G-7 leader to wel­come Russian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin for an of­fi­cial visit since Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea in 2014. Why? Ter­ri­tory.

De­spite continued sanc­tions on Rus­sia, Abe is ea­ger to make progress on a 70-year-old ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute that has kept their coun­tries from sign­ing a peace treaty for­mally end­ing World War II.

A look at the two-day talks, which open to­day at a hot springs re­sort in Abe’s an­ces­tral home­town of Na­gato and wrap up Fri­day in Tokyo:

Ja­pan says the Soviet Union took the south­ern Kuril is­lands il­le­gally at the end of World War II, ex­pelling 17,000 Ja­panese to nearby Hokkaido, the north­ern­most of Ja­pan’s four main is­lands. About one-third of the for­mer res­i­dents are still alive. The Soviet Union, uni­lat­er­ally scrap­ping a 1941 neu­tral­ity treaty, en­tered the war against Ja­pan a week be­fore the lat­ter’s sur­ren­der on Aug. 15, 1945. It oc­cu­pied the dis­puted is­lands - known as the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ries in Ja­pan - within weeks, a process Rus­sia says was le­gal. The two coun­tries signed a Ja­pan-Soviet Joint Dec­la­ra­tion in 1956 end­ing their state of war and restor­ing diplo­matic re­la­tions, but failed to con­clude a peace treaty be­cause of the is­land is­sue. Rus­sia gov­erns the is­lands and the Rus­sians who live there.

Ja­panese hopes for a set­tle­ment sank af­ter Abe met Putin last month on the side­lines of the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion meet­ing in Peru. James Brown, a Rus­sia-Ja­pan ex­pert at Tem­ple Univer­sity’s Ja­pan cam­pus said “there are too many ob­sta­cles to an agree­ment on the ter­ri­to­rial is­sues to ac­tu­ally sign a peace treaty. I think they are try­ing to come up with some sort of for­mu­la­tion that gives the im­pres­sion of progress.” For­mer Ja­panese diplo­mat Kazuhiko Togo said in a re­cent com­men­tary that se­ri­ous ne­go­ti­a­tions be­gan only af­ter Abe and Putin met in Sochi, Rus­sia, in May, “and seven months is too short to un­tie this com­pli­cated knot.”

Econ­omy first

Rus­sia wants to at­tract Ja­panese in­vest­ment, par­tic­u­larly to its far east.

Ja­pan’s trade min­is­ter in charge of Rus­sia, Hiroshige Seko, said about 30 projects in eight ar­eas are ready for sign­ing: Ja­pan would pro­vide ad­vanced med­i­cal, health and en­vi­ron­men­tal tech­nol­ogy and help with the in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion of the far east, while re­ceiv­ing ex­per­tise from Rus­sia in de­com­mis­sion­ing nu­clear plants, en­ergy and cy­ber se­cu­rity. “We will have a win-win sit­u­a­tion, at least in eco­nomic re­la­tions,” he told a news con­fer­ence this week. Joint devel­op­ment of the dis­puted is­lands is also on the ta­ble, but Ja­pan is wary of the sovereignty is­sue: If it’s Ja­panese ter­ri­tory, shouldn’t Ja­panese laws ap­ply?

The lead­ers’ words

Abe told a group of for­mer res­i­dents of the is­lands this week that “I’m de­ter­mined to put an end to this is­sue in our gen­er­a­tion.” Putin told Ja­panese jour­nal­ists Tues­day that there is a chance of a break­through, but his gov­ern­ment doesn’t mind the sta­tus quo. “We think that we have no ter­ri­to­rial prob­lems. It’s Ja­pan that thinks that is has a ter­ri­to­rial prob­lem with Rus­sia,” he said.

A Rus­sia-friendly ap­proach from US Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump could buy time, tak­ing pres­sure off Ja­pan to strike a quick deal be­fore a change in US lead­er­ship, said Alexan­der Gabuyev, a Carnegie Moscow Cen­ter ex­pert on the Pa­cific re­gion. Trump’s op­po­nent, Hil­lary Clin­ton, had been ex­pected to take a tougher stance to­ward Moscow. At the same time Trump’s “Amer­ica first” pol­icy has raised con­cern in Ja­pan that any re­duc­tion of the US military pres­ence in Asia could mean in­creased risks for Ja­pan as China’s re­gional am­bi­tions grow. Even short of a ter­ri­to­rial agree­ment, Ja­pan is keen to have closer re­la­tions with Rus­sia for se­cu­rity rea­sons. —AP

LIMA: In this Nov 20, 2016, file photo, Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, left, shakes hands with Russian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin dur­ing their meet­ing at the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion (APEC) fo­rum. —AP

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