Moscow and Tokyo finally listening to each other

Moscow and Tokyo finally listening to each other

The Japanese government intends to boost negotiations with Russia on disputed territories and signing an intergovernmental peace treaty. The Mainichi, a Japanese media which reported the sensational news, refers to its own governmental sources that remained anonymous. The fact led to skeptical comments that Tokyo sends up a trial balloon once again.

Nevertheless, we have to admit that Japan has never been so close to getting the things moving if not making the biggest dream come true. At least, it is seen at the level of discussions. However, on the other hand, the process’s initiative belongs to Moscow rather than Tokyo.

The Mainichi reports, referring to “its own governmental sources”, that Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe is going to offer the mentioned initiative – negotiations on disputed territories and an intergovernmental peace treaty – to Russian President Vladimir Putin next week in Singapore at the ASEAN summit.

According to the article, Abe’s plan suggests getting Shikotan and Khabomai Rocks after signing a peace treaty between Japan and the Russian Federation. The problem of two other islands – Kunashir and Iturup – is thought to be solved later within the framework of negotiations.

Experts on Japan assuming that “it is so” say that the Japan Prime Minister seems to be guided by the Moscow-Tokyo joint declaration of 1956. The document stated that Russia agreed to consider the issue of placing two islands – Shikotan and Khabomai Rocks – under Japan’s control but only after signing a peace treaty. “To consider” doesn’t mean guaranteed placing the islands under Japan’s control. At the same time, Kunashir and Iturup are not mentioned in the declaration, as if they don’t exist at all.

Japan’s burst on the problem is “provoked” by Russia. President of Russia Vladimir Putin suggested Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signing an intergovernmental peace treaty without any preconditions by the end of the year in September 2018, at the Eastern Economic Forum. At that time, the Russian leader viewed the way out of the deadlock in the following way: “Let’s sign a peace treaty – not at the moment but by the end of the year – without any preconditions. Later, we continue solving all unsettled problems on the basis of the peace treaty as friends… And I think it would make solving the problems easier, as we are failing to deal with them for 70 years.”

Looking back, the main obstacle on the way to a peace treaty between Russia and Japan, following the results of the World War II, is ownership of the southern part of the Kuril Archipelago. After the war, the whole archipelago was integrated into the USSR. Tokyo disputes ownership of Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan, and Khabomai Rocks which are a group of small islands. In its turn, Moscow believes that the Southern Kuril Islands have been integrated into the USSR as a result of the World War II and Russia’s control under them is indisputable.

However, Vladimir Putin’s offer didn’t find immediate approval in Tokyo. Japanese political scientists distantly commented that accepting the offer suggested by Russian President – signing a peace treaty and then starting the islands negotiations – meant political suicide for Shinzo Abe.

The Secretary General of the Japanese government, Yoshihide Suga, made a statement in lockstep with the expert community: “Tokyo keeps up with its own position on signing a peace treaty with Russia which suggests a settlement of territorial disputes. The government doesn’t change its policy on returning the islands and signing a peace treaty.” At the same time, the Japanese side delicately dropped a hint of doubt that Russian President’s offer was improvisation rather than a prepared and well-thought initiative.

However, according to The Mainchi, today Shinzo Abe is ready to follow the Russian scheme: signing a peace treaty and later negotiations on the islands. What’s a reason for changing the approach if it is really changing? The answer is probably lies in the deadlock of the Russian-Japanese relations. Tokyo might think: the situation hadn’t been changing for 70 years; a peace treaty hadn’t been being signed for 70 years; however, there is no war and we could meet the Russians halfway and sign a peace treaty; what would they do then? In the end, a peace treaty can be signed for a certain period and Japan can withdraw from it later, if no progress in returning the islands is seen.

This is only suggested logic of the Japanese government. By the way, if the approach appears to be efficient, it could be implemented in similar situations, i.e. unsettled territorial disputes.

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