23:50 GMT +318 February 2019
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    Islands and economic boom in Russian-Japanese relations

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    MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti foreign news commentator Ivan Zakharchenko) - Relations between Russia and Japan are booming, despite the ongoing territorial dispute, and the absence of a peace treaty.

    However, the two countries are not going to leave political issues aside, and are ready to search for their resolution, although their positions have not moved any closer.

    At their talks in Moscow on April 14, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and his Japanese counterpart Masahiko Komura discussed many questions. In a joint news conference they devoted even more attention than journalists expected to the peace treaty and the Japanese-claimed islands to the north of Hokkaido. Both declared their readiness to continue a search for a mutually acceptable agreement on the basis of previous accords.

    The 1956 Soviet-Japanese declaration put an end to the state of war between our two countries, and was ratified by both parliaments. However, the peace treaty was not signed because of the disputed territories - the islands of Kunashir, Shikotan, Iturup, and the Habomai Archipelago.

    Russia believes that this declaration rests on the results of WWII, which cannot be revised. However, the declaration also says that after the conclusion of the peace treaty, Moscow is ready to hand over Shikotan and Habomai to Japan. To further complicate matters, Japan claims not two, but four islands, and this position runs counter to the declaration.

    Analysts note that Russia is ready to sign a peace treaty with Japan if Tokyo agrees that the disputed islands, or at least two of them, belong to Russia.

    After visiting the South Kurile Islands in 2007, Lavrov proposed joint development of the islands but Tokyo did not respond. A source in the Japanese government told RIA Novosti that Tokyo worries that if it accepts this proposal, this might be interpreted as a tacit recognition that the islands are Russian rather than Japanese territory.

    At the same time, the sides agreed to promote free exchanges of visits between former Japanese residents of the islands and the current population. This applies to the members of their families as well. Japan does not object to this practice, since it is visa-free for its citizens.

    Despite all the differences in the sides' positions on the islands, they will continue searching for solutions at the sidelines of the G8 summit on Hokkaido next July, or before the summit if Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda visits Moscow. There is an agreement on the visit in principle, but not on its timing.

    Fukuda was expected to arrive in Russia in April, but the plan of his visit has to be approved by the National Diet (parliament).

    It is important for the sides to consolidate progress made in the last few years during the transition of power to President-Elect Dmitry Medvedev.

    Although Lavrov told Nihon Keizai on the eve of Komura's Moscow visit that Russia will not change its position, the Japanese are hoping that a trip to Moscow may help the prime minister to establish good personal contacts with Medvedev.

    During the current visit, Komura officially invited Medvedev to take part in the G8 summit on Hokkaido on July 7-9.

    Russia and Japan consider it important to create the best possible atmosphere for the conclusion of a peace treaty by developing cooperation in international affairs and other spheres.

    At the news conference, Komura said that Japan is ready to consider Russia's concerns about the development of a Japanese-U.S. missile defense system in North-Eastern Asia. He emphasized that this joint project is not directed against Russia.

    Moscow worries that the development of this system will whip up the arms race, and undermine strategic stability in the world. It believes that Japanese-U.S. military cooperation must be woven into the collective effort to promote regional security.

    There is one more problem in bilateral relations - the fate of former Japanese POWs that died in Siberia after WWII.

    Soviet troops took about 600,000 Japanese prisoners in Manchuria, North Korea, South Sakhalin, and the Kurile Islands. The Japanese government maintains that 60,000 of them perished in Siberia. The fate of another 12,000 has not been clarified, and Japan is hoping to receive from Russia the remaining lists of the dead.

    This time, Lavrov gave Komura a list of 134 names, which the Japanese minister described as "a sign of Russia's serious intention to resolve the issue."

    Russia and Japan are preparing several documents for signing at the upcoming G8 summit. A source in the Japanese government reported that these include agreements on cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, on easing visa and customs procedures, and on mutual assistance in investigating crimes.

    During his trip to Russia, Komura visited St. Petersburg, which has become the hub of Japanese business activity in Russia, and met Minister of Industry and Energy Viktor Khristenko - both men co-chair the intergovernmental commission on trade and the economy.

    Last year, trade between the two countries surpassed $20 billion, which is five times what it was in 2002, while Japan's accumulated investment in Russia reached $3 billion. Three hundred and two Japanese companies are operating in Russia.

    Japan is interested in cooperation with Russia in the oil-and-gas industry (upstream and midstream), and in the modernization of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Direct flights between St. Petersburg and Narita (an international airport near Tokyo) are expected to be launched by the end of this month.

    Rapid development of bilateral ties is promoting political dialogue - strong economic partners should have fewer contradictions. Despite the divergence of views over the four islands, Moscow and Tokyo prefer to continue calm discussion in order to eventually find a mutually acceptable solution to the territorial problem, and sign a peace treaty.

    The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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