REVIEW - Putin, Abe Hold Meeting In Osaka Amid Stalled Peace Treaty Talks

MOSCOW/OSAKA (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 30th June, 2019) Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a meeting after the G20 summit in Japan's Osaka on Saturday amid stalled peace treaty negotiations between the two countries.

Last year, the two leaders agreed to step up the negotiations on the long-pending peace agreement, but there has been little progress on the issue ever since, and the territorial dispute over the four islands Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai remains a major stumbling rock in the Russia-Japan relations.

During the meeting, the two leaders pointed at the establishment of a "substantial dialogue" on this issue, according to Putin. Abe, on his part, said that "the contour of problems that need to be overcome" to conclude a peace treaty, was becoming clear.

Among the other outcomes of the meeting were plans to create a high-speed data transmission channel between Russia's Nakhodka city and the Japanese city of Niigata, Putin added.

Moreover, the sides confirmed Japan's participation in the Arctic LNG-2 gas extraction project, led by the Russian gas company Novatek. The Japanese Mitsui company and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) are expected to invest almost $3 billion in the project.

As for the Russian-Japanese joint economic activity on the Kuril islands, Putin and Abe agreed on business models for two new projects in tourism and waste recycling.

"We are witnessing a positive trend in the Japanese-Russian ties across all areas. We have just returned from a closing ceremony of the first Japanese-Russian cross-year in history, which helped us strengthen, expand and re-energize exchanges between our peoples," Abe said at the meeting with Putin.

The two leaders also discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula, with the Russian president stressing that the issue could be settled only by peaceful means.

According to Kazuhiko Togo, the retired Japanese diplomat and the director of the Institute for World Affairs at Kyoto Sangyo University, there were no expectations that any meaningful agreement would be reached at this meeting between Putin and Abe.

"The summit meeting, which ended without noticeable big achievements, in general went as expected ... The content of the actual discussion has not been made public because proper information management was in place. I think that it is generally what we expected," Togo told Sputnik.

He described the decision on Japan's participation in the Arctic LNG-2 as "a notable move" and expressed hope that the current public statements on status quo would eventually develop into "more substantial talks."

James Brown, the associate professor and academic program coordinator for international affairs at the Temple University Japan Campus, expressed similar views, saying that the meeting had plenty in terms of cultural and economic agreements, but showed little progress on sensitive economic issues.

"Originally, the Abe government had hoped that this summit would be the moment when a framework peace agreement was signed. This goal was abandoned earlier in the year when it became apparent that the sides remained far apart on crucial issues. The aim then shifted to using the summit to secure a final agreement on the joint economic activities on the disputed islands," Brown told Sputnik.

Asked whether the Japanese-Russian economic cooperation could ultimately help to find common ground in the issue of peace treaty, Brown said that, although their economic interaction had been characterized by a positive dynamic since 2016, the scale of projects had generally been "very small."

"Now, with the announcement of the deal for Mitsui and JOGMEC to take a 10 percent stake in Novatek's Arctic LNG-2, the sides finally have a new large-scale investment. However, while this economic deal is undoubtedly significant, there is no reason to believe that it will help to achieve a peace treaty since it does nothing to address the territorial dispute. The Russian government has also made it very clear that it does not consider economic cooperation to be connected to the peace treaty issue," the professor noted.

Vladimir Nelidov, the research fellow at the Center for Japanese Studies at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian academy of Sciences, told Sputnik, on his part, that Putin and Abe practically repeated what they had already said multiple times.

"On one hand, this entirely corresponds to the position of the Russian side, which believes that, at the moment, a gradual quantitative build-up of interaction should be a priority in [the Russian-Japanese] relations so that it could turn into qualitative [interaction] sometime in the future," he stressed.

On the other hand, Tokyo seems to have also accepted this approach, hopefully "do this boring, maybe not very impressive, but nevertheless very important work," according to Nelidov.