[Essay] Seminar “The Northern Territories Issue: Rethinking Japan-Russia Perception and Relations” on October 6, 2016

Seminar “The Northern Territories Issue: Rethinking Japan-Russia Perception and Relations” 

     On October 6, 2016 a seminar entitled “The Northern Territories Issue: Rethinking Japan-Russia Perception and Relations,” with the participation of specially invited guest Professor Dmitry Streltsov from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, was held at the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center. In anticipation of the meeting between Prime Minister Abe and President Putin scheduled for December 15 in Yamaguchi Prefecture, the conference room was filled with audience and correspondents. Firstly, at the seminar, Professor Streltsov gave a lecture on contemporary development of Japan-Russia relations and scenarios for solving the Northern Territories issue in the future. Japan’s position in Russia’s Asian policy has dramatically increased since the end of the last year, which can be seen as a new trend. Since the moment of initiation of sanctions in 2014 by Western countries, China has become the top-priority partner for Russia, but the fact that China had not fully played its expected role in the trade and finance relationship and besides took a dominant position in gas negotiations was a warning sign for Russia. Prime Minister Abe and President Park’s attendance at the Eastern Economic Forum held in Vladivostok in September was a symbol of the growing Asian tendency in Russian foreign policy toward Japan and Korea. 

      In addition, Professor Streltsov presented the following three scenarios that can be considered as theoretical ways toward negotiations on the Northern Territories. The first scenario is a step of good will from Russia by the returning of two islands to Japan (without however right to sovereignty, as joint management of the island), based on the 1956 Joint Declaration. The second scenario is to continue negotiations. As of now, this is the most realistic prospect, with the situation remaining the same in 2017 even after the summit. And the third scenario describes the situation when compromise cannot exceed a certain level and mutually acceptable solutions are not found. In this case, they would freeze negotiations and shelve them, without hurting each other’s authority. Meanwhile, Professor Akihiro Iwashita talked about the attitude and Abe administration’s attitude toward Russia and its characteristics if bilateral diplomatic relations progress. Japan-Russia negotiations are one of the few projects that Prime Minister Abe initiated himself but, as has been reported in the Yomiuri Shimbun (September 23), Russia’s minimum requirement to is still the returning of the two islands. In addition, it was stated that Japan diplomacy will not change course unless Japan has resolved the problem of the relationship between North Korea and the Soviet Union, which is a “postwar” problem that the country is carrying.

Comments and questions from the moderator:

1) Was it a temporary phenomenon that Japan-Russia relationship became a priority issue in 2016 due to fluctuations in the international situation?

2) China-Russia expressed opposition to the deployment of THAAD in South Korea; in these circumstances, can Russia separate economic interests and security issues in its approach to Japan and South Korea?

3) Would you comment on the temperature difference in negotiations between Russia and Japan?

These pertinent questions were received by the audience, and the seminar ended on a high note.  

Although it has nothing to do with the contents of this seminar, you can listen to a program where Dr. Dmitry Streltsov gives answers about the Japan-Russia relationship on Radio ВЕСТИ FM from here (in Russian).

(Written by Mihoko Kato / Translated by Aleksandra Kuklina)

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