The Japan Forum on International Relations

May 21,2019

Looking Back the Japan-Russia Peace Treaty Negotiation

In this article, I would like to review the negotiation process of the Japan-Russia peace treaty so far and point out some prospect from now. In spite of the agreement made between Prime Minister Abe and President Putin at the ‘Lodge Meeting’ in Yamaguchi prefecture in December, 2016, on moving forward practically the Japan-Russia negotiation , as well as to promote the economic development of the Far East Russia and the four Northern Islands within the special framework that would not violate the legal condition of both countries, yet little progress has been achieved. President Putin publicly proposed to “begin the peace treaty negotiation without any preconditions” at The 4th Eastern Economic Forum in September, 2018, and later on November 14, during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit Meeting, the both leaders agreed to ‘activate’ (author’s note: in Russian, it did not say ‘accelerate’ as reported in Japanese) the negotiation process based on the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956. Thus, after six decades of back and forth the negotiation was turned back where it started. On March 14, 2019 at a Russian business meeting, it was reported that President Putin said the negotiation should not be broken off but it needs “a break”. It was followed by the speech on March 27 by Mr. Mikhail Y. Galuzin, Russian Ambassador to Japan, saying that Russia and Japan shall conclude the peace treaty based on the Joint Declaration of 1956, and Japan should accept the result of the World War II. He requested Japan to ease the security concern originating from the Japan-U.S. alliance, and further protested that the Northern Islands are described as Japan’s inherent territories in Japanese textbooks.

Because Russia is tightly busy dealing with various challenges that needs to be handled without delay such as; toughening US on issues of missiles, space or military affairs; loosening unity of EU; wobbling NATO; the presidential election in Ukraine; Middle East issues like Syria, Israel and Palestine; intervention to Venezuela; rapidly rising China; unstable Korean Peninsula; weakening domestic economy; declining support for President Putin, etc.— the priority for concluding the peace treaty with Japan is significantly low. Cool-headed President Putin honestly may want to take a break. That would explain why Russia now complains about the Japanese textbooks claiming the Northern Territories as its own, proposes dissolving the Japan-US Alliance which obviously Japan can not accept. While Russia tries to buy time and blame Japan for delaying progress, not willing to negotiate seriously and expects Japan to compromise before Russia do anything, Japan would only end up tying its own hands even it make an effort to talk or to set the time for concluding the negotiation. Personal amicable relations and national interest in international politics are two different things. Good-will or kindness will not always be reciprocated. A sign of willingness to compromise for negotiation progress could trigger even harder response.

Despite having the “abnormal state” with the absence of peace treaty for 73 years after the war, Japan and Russia have maintained the normal bilateral relations economically and diplomatically. The Northern Territories will not disappear, and the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration will remain to be a valid diplomatic document between the two sovereign states. What Japan should not do at this stage is to compromise willy-nilly to sign a peace treaty and leave source of problems in the long future. Japan needs to take a delicate balance on the surrounding three big powers –US, China and Russia. As the international system today is undergoing a structural change of an unprecedented scale in which the balance of power among states is in disarray, the Northern Territories issue should not be solved in a hurry. Japan’s national interest needs to be examined through a long-term perspective based on a broader basis.

What is now required for Japan is a change of mind setting. Japan had cooperated with Soviet Russia in the developments of oil, forestry, ports, etc. in Siberia and Far East during the 1970s. Japan can separate the economic/trade relations from the peace treaty negotiation so that Japan would proactively promote economically beneficial dealings for its own. If economic win-win cooperation be promoted between the two countries President Putin would take it positively to promote economic development in Siberia and Far East to cope with rapidly rising China. Meanwhile, Japan should not forget to remind Russia of the territory issue, as ‘old wound’, from time to time in appropriate chances.

(This is the English translation of an article written by MATSUI Akira, the first Japanese Ambassador to Kazakhstan, which originally appeared on the e-forum “Hyakka-Seiho (Hundred Flowers in Full Bloom)” of JFIR on April 7, 2019.)