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Abe, Putin discuss islands row

By Cai Hong in Tokyo and Wang Qingyun in Beijing | China Daily | Updated: 2016-12-16 07:48

Abe, Putin discuss islands row

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during their meeting on Thursday in Nagato, Japan. [Photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press]

Beijing says pleased to see the two neighbors develop normal and friendly cooperation

Being on a different wavelength with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may find it impossible to settle the territorial dispute between the two countries during Putin's visit that began at a hot springs resort in Abe's ancestral hometown of Nagato, Yamaguchi prefecture, on Thursday.

Japan put the issue high on the agenda for the first day of Putin's two-day visit.

Abe is eager to get back the four disputed islands off Japan's northernmost main island, Hokkaido, claiming that they are inherently part of the country's territory.

Putin, however, has asserted that there are no territorial problems with Japan. "It is only Japan that feels it has a territorial issue with Russia," he told Japanese media on Tuesday. "The results of that terrible tragedy of the 20th century, namely World War II, are enshrined in corresponding international documents."

After the meeting, Russia's foreign minister said Japan and Russia will likely revive security talks and keep discussing the territorial dispute.

Lavrov told reporters that Putin had offered to resume security talks among their foreign and defense ministers which were suspended after Russia annexed the Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Commenting on the visit, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Thursday that China is pleased to see Russia and Japan develop normal and friendly cooperation based on mutual respect and treating each other equally.

He said both Russia and Japan are China's neighbors and important countries in the Asia-Pacific region, adding that their relations should benefit regional peace and stability.

The Soviet Union seized the islands at the end of the war.

This is the fourth meeting between Abe and Putin this year and the 16th in total.

Putin's trip to Japan was the first by a Russian leader in 11 years. He had been scheduled to visit in 2014 but had to postpone after the Crimean annexation. Along with the West, Japan imposed sanctions on Russia, which Putin has criticized for creating a major barrier toward progress in negotiations on a peace treaty.

Putin told Yomiuri Shimbun this week that the goal of a peace treaty would be harder to achieve if Russia remained subject to Japanese sanctions.

Japan and Russia signed a Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration in 1956, ending their state of war and restoring diplomatic relations. These islands, which are called the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, have stood in the way of a peace treaty.

Japan holds the settlement of the issue as a precondition to conclude a peace treaty.

Putin is interested in "joint economic activities" on the four disputed islands under Russia's sovereignty.

Abe and Putin were scheduled to meet on Friday in Tokyo for economic cooperation and a joint news conference.

Abe's bid to improve relations with Russia had worried Washington, but US President-elect Donald Trump is expected to seek a thaw with Moscow, Reuters reported.

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