Breakthrough in Japan, Russia islands row eludes PM Abe, Putin
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin wrapped up two days of talks on Friday, with numerous economic deals but no big breakthrough on a territorial row that has over-shadowed ties since World War Two.
Putin was heading home with promises of economic cooperation after appearing to achieve what experts said was a key objective - easing international isolation when Russia faces Western condemnation over the destruction of eastern Aleppo in Syria, where it is backing President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Abe and Putin agreed to launch talks on joint economic activities on disputed islands at the centre of the territorial row as a step toward concluding a peace treaty formally ending World War Two, the two sides said in a joint statement.
The islands in the Western Pacific, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in Russia, were seized by Soviet forces at the end of World War Two and 17,000 Japanese residents were forced to flee. The dispute over their sovereignty has prevented the two countries signing a peace treaty. Abe said he and Putin had taken “an important step” toward a peace treaty but concluding one would not be easy. “The issue won’t be solved if each of us just make their own case,” Abe said at a news conference with Putin. “We need to make efforts toward a breakthrough so that we don’t disappoint the next generation. We need to set aside the past and create a win-win solution for both of us.”
Putin dismissed the notion that he was only interested in getting economic benefits from Japan. “If anyone thinks we’re interested only in developing economic links and a peace deal is of secondary importance, that’s not the case,” he told the same news conference. “For me, the most important thing is to sign a peace agreement because that would create the conditions for long-term co-operation.”
“Putin go home”
As the two leaders held their second round of talks on Friday, right-wing activists in trucks mounted with loudspeakers circled the streets not far from the prime ministers’ office, blaring “Return the islands” and “Putin Go Home”.
Abe has pledged to resolve the territorial dispute in the hope of leaving a significant diplomatic legacy and building better ties with Russia to counter a rising China. He had hoped the lure of economic cooperation for Russia’s economy, hit by low oil prices and Western sanctions, would pave the path for significant progress on the dispute. Putin, however, would risk tarnishing his domestic image as a staunch defender of Russian sovereignty by compromising. Japanese opposition politicians were quick to criticize the talks.
TOKYO: Russian President Vladimir Putin (3rd R), Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (3rd L), former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori (2nd L) and vice chairman of the All Japan Judo Federation Yasuhiro Yamashita (2nd R) watch a demonstration of ancient custom judo during a visit to the Kodokan judo hall on December 16,2016.