Japan and Russia have to move on from Kuril Islands

Japan-Russia relations have been associated with the dispute at the Kuril Islands for several years. Although they have tried to find a diplomatic solution since 2012, several sore points still exist.

Focused on progressing Japan, Shinzō Abe has been involved in improving political regulations in his country to fulfil his larger plans. By bringing free trade agreements and constitutional revisions into discussion, he has initiated several projects. At the same time, he has positioned himself as one of the most influential figures in Japan’s political landscape.

Why is the settlement important?

Shinzō Abe has held around 27 meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Abe is not only sticking to core economic priorities of Japan but has also been intending to maintain the country’s role in international politics.

When we talk about the failures of the Abe administration, they comprise of the issues with a pacifist constitution, outlawing the management of an armed force, lower pace of domestic development and hardly any leverage at the international front and at the UN Security Council. Keeping in mind its discussions with North Korea and the relations with other neighbors, they have been quite far from productive. After the recent spat with South Korea dented their key alliance, Japan is left with less options of counterbalancing China.

Life is often difficult under the harsh weather of Kuril Islands (Al Jazeera Photo)
Life is often difficult under the harsh weather of Kuril Islands (Al Jazeera Photo)

In such a situation, negotiations with Russia have become significant as they offer a helping hand to Japan’s current conditions. Putin and Abe have a working relationship as the personal connections in the Russo-Japanese negotiations have in the past proved fruitful.

Being a participant of the Russia initiated Eastern Economic Forum that makes use of Japanese investments, Abe is being increasingly considered one of Putin’s close acquaintances. Having said that, their bilateral relations and territorial disputes can be solved as both states appear to be positive.

The options with Japan and Russia

Even though the public opinion over Russian military and Kuril islands are still the basic obstacles, the negotiations between Russia and Japan can take place as per the 1956 Joint Declaration. This refers to the fact that Shinzō Abe might agree to accept the areas of Habomai and Shikotan. Moreover, the softening of Japanese negotiations has encouraged Russia to show some diplomatic flexibility to address the concerns of Shinzō Abe.

Moscow can establish a close association with Tokyo to allow it to contribute to Russia’s growth. To open up to the needs of both, Putin and Abe need to agree to an agenda that can facilitate the islands’ transition, implement peace treaties and sign up for collaborations.

On a temporary basis, a possible agreement can be made that includes a mutual authority and overseeing the Kuril Islands. Likewise, implementation of separate agreements over financial collaboration and non-involvement of military can help to pave the road of success in Russo-Japanese negotiations. Above all, signing of a peace agreement is also an option to ensure social and economic development of both nations.

If an agreement can be reached by the year 2022, it will affect a positive breakthrough at several levels. Asia will experience development and an improved safety environment with the normalization of Japan-Russia relations.