Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Japan and have a summit meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the December 15th. The focus of the meeting will be the Northern Territories issues (the South Kuril Islands disputes) over the four islands of Etorofu(Itrup), Kunashiri(Kunashir), Shikotan, and Habomai Islands. They have been occupied by the Soviet Union and Russia, since August/September 1945. Japan has been demanding the return of four islands, with a basic stance to conclude a peace treaty with Russia after resolving the issue of the attribution of the four Northern Islands.
Abe advocates “a new approach.” Putin repeats to mention “hikiwake,” or a draw (in the Judo match) in Japanese. Japanese government refuses to clarify the meaning of a new approach. According to the website of Foreign Ministry, however, we can find its key concepts. One of them is future-oriented, or no adherence to the past ideas in my reading.
Abe recently stated in the Diet session that the GOJ would maintain its traditional basic stance, to conclude a peace treaty with Russia after resolving the issue of the attribution of the four Northern Islands. Therefore, the GOJ must be trying to make a deal with Russia by being flexible about the interpretation of “resolving the issue of the attribution of the four Northern Islands.” Besides, the GOJ is said to be proposing a large-scale economic assistance in eight fields, supposedly tens of billion dollars if agreed, ranging from the development of Russian natural resources to the improvement of medical and postal systems.
I suspect that the most prominent fruit of the December summit, as the GOJ is likely to emphasize, will be the conclusion of a Japan-Russo peace treaty. Abe may want to dissolve the Diet by appealing the “historical” peace treaty rather than the resolution of the territorial issues.
At this moment, the negotiation is ongoing, and it is impossible for me to know the detail of it. But let me show my present impressions facing media reports on the Northern Territories negotiation.
First, a long-term administration opens up the possibility of diplomacy for Japan. It’s good even though I don’t basically like Abe’s foreign policy. Abe’s premiership will be four years long in next December. Generally speaking, he will be a senior to the next American president in terms of political career as a top leader. More specifically, he met Putin for fourteen times up to the present. Because Abe’s political base is strong, Russian president can trust his words. Otherwise, any promise about sensitive territorial issue is too risky to take seriously. The same can be said about Putin. In this sense, Abe is seizing a rare opportunity.