Japan Invites Russia to Handle Environmental Research on Northern Territories

The Japanese government is set to propose joint research with Russia on fishing in waters near the Russian-held Northern Territories, as well as on plants and animals peculiar to the region, during an upcoming bilateral meeting in Tokyo, it has been learned.

The meeting, to be held on March 18, will be the first between Japan and Russia on their initiative on joint economic activities connected with the four disputed islands off Hokkaido. If Russia agrees with the proposals, Japan hopes to start the joint research possibly by the end of the year, giving momentum to further talks on joint economic activities.

Tokyo believes that regional development through joint economic activities will lead to the conclusion of a Japan-Russia peace treaty and progress on the territorial issue, and it aims to launch joint economic activities at an early date.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed during a December 2016 summit meeting that the two countries would begin talks on joint economic activities. At the forthcoming March 18 meeting, senior officials from the concerned ministries and agencies from both countries will be present to offer proposals from their respective governments. For the Japan side, high-ranking officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries are scheduled to attend the meeting.

In order for the two countries to initiate joint economic activities, a special system that would not infringe upon their respective legal positions needs to be established. However, because negotiations involving the sovereignty issue are likely to face difficulties, Tokyo aims to prioritize joint research that can be conducted without establishing such a system.

The subjects to be covered by the joint research are expected to include marine life in waters surrounding the Northern Territories and the environment appropriate for fish farming, as well as the habitat of animals and plants and scenic areas for sightseeing.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government is considering including in joint economic activities the farming of sea urchins and scallops in coastal areas, the gathering of “konbu” kelp, ecology tours to watch whales and Steller’s sea eagles, and providing medical care to residents on the four islands.