World / Asia-Pacific

Japan eyes upcoming FM meeting as chance to improve frayed ties with Russia

(Xinhua) Updated: 2016-04-12 16:20

TOKYO -- Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said on Tuesday that he hoped an upcoming meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov this week in Tokyo will be productive and help improve ties between both countries.

Ties between Tokyo and Moscow became increasingly strained following Japan slapping new sanctions against Russia in response the crisis in eastern Ukraine, along with steps taken by the United States and the European Union.

The Ukraine crisis which flared up in 2014 saw diplomatic ties frayed and a planned trip to Japan by Russian President Vladimir Putin postponed. But in October 2015 high-level talks resumed between Tokyo and Moscow, particularly related to a territorial dispute between both countries.

Kishida said Tuesday he has high hopes that his meeting with Lavrov on Friday will help improve overall Japanese-Russia ties and bring both countries closer to settling the territorial row.

"With an eye on a dialogue between the country leaders, I hope to hold substantial discussions on the overall Japan-Russia relations, including the signing of a peace treaty," Kishida told a press briefing.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who will meet Putin for informal talks in Russia next month, has expressed his eagerness to resolve the dispute with Russia, stating that the two sides would be able to "unlock the untapped potential" of the Japan-Russia relationship, if the decades-old spat were resolved.

The issue stems from a 1956 joint declaration which was made between Japan and the then Soviet Union in which the Russians agreed to return two of four islands located north of Hokkaido, which are believed by Japan as a part of the Nemuro Sub-prefecture of Hokkaido and are referred to by Japan as the Northern Territories.

Russia, however, maintains that the same islands that they refer to as the Southern Kurils are their territory, with Russian leaders repeatedly referring to the islands as a "strategic region" of Russia.

The island are currently administered by Russia, but claimed by Japan.

The 2001 Irkutsk Statement, which confirms that the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration is a basic legal document, is viewed by experts as the foundation upon which a peace treaty between the two nations could be built.

But the ongoing dispute, which has impacted bilateral relations between the two countries, however, is largely concerned with the San Francisco Peace Treaty.

This treaty inked between the Allied Powers and Japan in 1951 states that Japan must give up its claims to the islands, but recognition of sovereignty over the islands was not given to the Soviet Union either, according to the treaty.

Russia, however, believes sovereignty was recognized long before the 1951 treaty at the end of WWII, and thus the territorial dispute has prevented the two countries from signing a postwar peace treaty as Japan says the islands are an inherent part of its territory.

Abe has said he wants talks on the issue to be accelerated to "get the Northern Territories back and sign a peace treaty," and to this end Kishida will be discussing a possible visit to Japan by Putin in the near future so Abe can discuss the matter formally with the Russian president.

Kishida said on Tuesday that along with Putin's possible visit, he'll also be discussing the Ukraine issue with his Russian counterpart.

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