Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 142

Leading Japanese politicians will join with academics and other Japanese experts on Russia in the formation of an organization devoted to boosting relations between Japan and Russia, organizers said in Tokyo on July 22. The new organization, to be called the Japan-Russia Friendship Forum 21, will serve as a counterpart to the Twenty-First Century Committee, an analogous group in Russia established in March and headed by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. The Japan-Russia Friendship Forum will include some thirty Japanese organizations dealing with Russia as well as 100 Japanese Russia experts. The organization is to hold a preparatory meeting on July 27 and expects to be formally established in September. Organizers said that the group will likely hold its first joint forum with the Russian Twenty-First Century Committee sometime in October. (Kyodo, July 22)

The creation of the new Japanese organization may be part of an effort by interested Japanese elites to maintain momentum in Japanese-Russian relations following the departure of Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. The Japanese leader was the primary force behind a Japanese initiative aimed at resolving the Japanese-Russian territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands and signing a peace treaty with Russia that would formally end World War II. Since the defeat of Hashimoto’s Liberal Democratic Party on July 12 and Hashimoto’s subsequent resignation announcement, observers in Russia and Japan have worried that relations between the two countries could languish. LDP leaders went out of their way to reassure Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko during his July 13-14 visit to Japan that this would not be the case, and the Japan-Russia Friendship Forum 21 may be one way that Tokyo can try to fulfill that pledge. (See the Monitor, July 13-15)