Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 134

Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto was the primary architect of a Japanese diplomatic initiative aimed at improving Russian-Japanese ties by de-emphasizing a territorial dispute between the two countries over four Russian-held islands. The South Kurils, seized by Soviet troops at the close of World War II, are claimed by Japan. Hashimoto launched his effort to jump-start relations with Russia during a speech in July of last year. Since then, Hashimoto and Yeltsin have held two informal summits. Simultaneously, diplomats from Moscow and Tokyo worked hard to produce–by the year 2000–a peace treaty to formally end World War II and fully normalize relations.

Yesterday’s events seemed to augur well for those efforts in the post-Hashimoto period, particularly insofar as Hashimoto’s Liberal Democratic Party will remain in power. Observers from both countries nevertheless worried yesterday that it will take time for Japan’s new prime minister to build the sort of friendly personal relations that Hashimoto and Yeltsin had developed. Hashimoto’s resignation could presage a broader government personnel shuffle, which might also set back ties between the two countries. Such delays could be important. Tokyo had hoped to move forward not only on the peace treaty but also on the territorial dispute with Russia before the end of Yeltsin’s term as president in the year 2000. That hope was based on the belief that, however little room Yeltsin might have at present to maneuver on such issues, he was likely to be more flexible than will any of his potential successors.