Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 191

Hashimoto’s initiative led to two informal summit meetings between the Japanese leader and Russian President Boris Yeltsin. At the first, in Krasnoyarsk in November of 1997, the two men pledged to do their utmost to conclude a peace treaty by the year 2000. At the second, in the Japanese resort city of Kawana this past April, Hashimoto made a proposal to Yeltsin regarding the disposition of the disputed islands. The plan was never made public, but reportedly called for the transfer of the islands to Japan following an interim period in which they would stay under Russia’s administrative control. Yeltsin agreed to respond formally to Hashimoto’s proposal at their next summit meeting, tentatively scheduled for this autumn.

In the interim, Hashimoto was ousted from office and there have been changes of government in both countries. Current Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi has vowed to maintain Hashimoto’s policies vis-a-vis Russia, however, and is now himself scheduled to summit with Yeltsin in mid-November. For Tokyo, concessions from Moscow on the territorial issue nevertheless remain paramount. Japanese leaders have suggested that a peace treaty cannot be concluded without resolving the status of the Kuril Islands. Moscow, which has shown no inclination to give up the islands, has tended instead to underscore the importance of improved economic relations with Japan. Russian diplomats have also suggested that a peace treaty could be signed without any immediate resolution of the territorial issue.

Tokyo believes that its chances of gaining Russian concessions on the Kuril Islands will diminish once Boris Yeltsin has passed from the Russian political scene. With this in mind, Japanese diplomats have continued to link the territorial issue and the peace treaty. With regard to the treaty, they have also pushed to meet the year 2000 deadline. Russia’s diplomats are clearly not in such a hurry. Their recent remarks would appear to confirm that neither Komura’s current visit–nor that of Obuchi in November–will lead to any significant breakthrough on the island issue. Indeed, the Russian newspaper izvestia has reportedly made that very point. The daily quoted Russian diplomatic sources as saying that Yeltsin was unlikely to grant Japan any form of sovereignty over the four disputed islands during Obuchi’s November visit. Making the same point, it also said that the Russian response to Hashimoto’s proposal on the islands will be unsatisfactory for Tokyo (Kyodo, October 16).