Japan and Russia have agreed to step up military cooperation. The countries have also agreed to continue discussing a territorial dispute that has kept them from signing a peace treaty.
At the first high-level defense and diplomatic talks between the countries, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera agreed with Russian counterparts Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu to hold joint military and anti-piracy exercises. They also agreed to establish a consultation framework and said the countries would gear ties toward peace and stability and that agreements would not affect existing alliances.
"We got off to a good start by turning to a new chapter of the Japanese and Russian relationship," Kishida told a news conference Saturday.
Lavrov told the news conference that upgrading defense ties between the two countries could serve their national interests in resolving terrorism and North Korea's nuclear threats, as well as other regional disputes. He welcomed the talks as a landmark development for Russia and Japan, and also said that this new cooperation would not interfere with the Japan-US alliance.
"We confirmed that our close cooperation in settling these issues will meet the interest of the two countries," the Russian foreign minister said.
In response to China's growing military presence and threats from North Korea, Japan has sought to broaden its defense ties beyond its key security alliance with the United States. At the same time, Russia has expanded its trade ties in Asia and President Vladimir Putin has actively sought closer relations with Japan, partly also as a counter to China's rising military power.
The path to good relations between Japan and Russia may not prove entirely smooth, however. Russia has expressed concern over Japan's moves to strengthen its alliance with the United States, including a plan to locate a US missile-defense radar system in Japan.
"We openly communicated that we are concerned about Japan's participation in the United States' global missile defense system," Shoigu said.
'A positive impact'
The countries both claim islets seized by Soviet forces at the end of World War II, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in Russia, and never signed a treaty to end the conflict. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Putin have met four times in the last six months and agreed in April to revive talks on the dispute.
"To boost cooperation in the field of security - and not just in the field of economic and people exchanges - means that we are improving overall Japan-Russia ties," Kishida told the news conference. "This would also have a positive impact on the negotiations to sign a peace treaty."
In terms of commerce, there appear to be fewer hurdles. Japan and Russia have stepped up cooperation in developing energy resources, especially liquefied natural gas. On Saturday, Kishida said that trade between the two countries totaled a record $33 billion (24.4 billion euros) last year, and that he expected further growth.
mkg/slk (Reuters, AFP, AP)