Shinzo Abe

Abe, Putin hold intensive talks on disputed islands ahead of Russian leader’s Tokyo visit

Lingering tensions have prevented the two countries ever signing a peace treaty to formally end second world war hostilities

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 November, 2016, 1:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 November, 2016, 10:45pm

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin have held intensive talks on territorial issues with Abe expressing his desire to achieve a breakthrough in stalled negotiations over disputed islands when Putin visits Japan in mid-December.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with Putin in Lima, Abe said he “has come to see a path toward resolution” of what he referred to as the “peace treaty issue,” or a decades-old territorial dispute that has prevented the two countries from concluding a post-second world war peace treaty.

During the 70-minute meeting on the sidelines of a Pacific Rim summit in the Peruvian capital, Abe and Putin spent half the time discussing the territorial issue alone with their interpreters, according to a senior Japanese official.

The official declined to provide details about the talks, however, because the issue of four Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands off Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido is still under negotiation.

They are called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.

“It’s not easy to make a big step forward,” Abe said, citing the fact that Tokyo and Moscow have failed to resolve the issue for 70 years. “But I would like to move forward step by step.”

Abe expressed his intention to hold talks with Putin on December 16 in Tokyo on economic issues following their scheduled meeting in Yamaguchi, Abe’s constituency in western Japan, the previous day.

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To put the final touches to preparations for Putin’s visit, Abe said Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida will visit Russia for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.

Aside from the territorial issue, the leaders discussed bilateral economic cooperation, especially an eight-point plan Abe proposed to Putin in May.

Abe said he and Putin affirmed the progress the two governments have made on the plan.

Hiroshige Seko, Japan’s minister of economy, trade and industry who joined the first half of the meeting, presented the two leaders with a list of projects the two sides have crafted in line with the plan.

Putin said the cooperation plan is a good initiative for advancing economic relations between the two countries, according to the senior Japanese official who briefed reporters about the meeting.

Japan hopes to use the plan as leverage for pushing forward talks on the territorial issue.

The plan features bilateral economic cooperation in eight areas such as medicine, energy, cutting-edge technologies and industrialisation of the Russian Far East.

The four islands at the centre of the dispute - Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group - were seized by the Soviet Union following Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945.