The Japanese government is aware of the remarks made by Russian President Vladimir Putin who announced "unique and unprecedented" proposals to get Tokyo involved in the Kuril Islands’ economy but wishes to refrain from guessing about what they constitute, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a regular press conference on Monday.
"We would like to refrain from guessing [about their contents] but we have been engaged in active talks with the Russian side about the issue of the joint economic activity in the northern territories (as Japan refers to the South Kuril Islands — TASS) and how to go ahead with it without violating legal positions of both countries," he underlined when asked a relevant question. Kato also added that the Japanese government had attentively listened to the remarks by the Russian president.
Earlier on Monday, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin began his working trip to the Russian Far East and Siberia. Putin instructed him to pay special attention to the Kuril Islands during this trip. The leader recalled that Russia had been long engaged in negotiations with Japanese partners to create "the necessary conditions for the participants in economic activities." Putin also announced "unique and unprecedented" proposals to get Japan involved in the economy of the Kuril Islands. Putin explained that the final initiatives will be formulated following Mishustin’s trip.
After Putin’s visit to Japan in December 2016 and his meetings with then-Japanese Prime Minister Minister Shinzo Abe, a joint statement was issued noting that an important step towards signing a peace treaty would be launching consultations on joint economic activity in the Southern Kuril Islands. Currently, the two countries are holding consultations on joint economic activity in five fields: aquatic culture, greenhouses, tourism, wind energy and waste processing.
Peace treaty talks
For many decades, Russia and Japan have been in talks to sign a peace treaty after World War II. The main stumbling block to achieving this is the ownership issue over the Southern Kuril Islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan. After the end of World War II, the Kuril Islands were incorporated into the Soviet Union. However, the ownership of Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan Islands and the Habomai Islands has been challenged by Japan. The Russian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly said that Russia’s sovereignty over these islands, which is committed to paper in international documents, cannot be called in question.
In November 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Singapore and agreed that the two countries would accelerate the pace of the peace negotiations based on the 1956 Joint Declaration. The declaration ended the state of war and said that the Soviet government was ready to hand Shikotan Island and a group of small islands called Habomai over to Japan on condition that Tokyo would take control of them once a peace treaty was signed.
The declaration was ratified by the parliaments of both states on December 8, 1956. As the Russian side has repeatedly noted, this document clearly stated that the issue of border delimitation could be considered only after the conclusion of a peace treaty.