Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 45

The degree to which the territorial issue is complicating relations between Russia and Japan in other areas was underscored once again earlier this week. In remarks reported by Japanese news sources on March 2, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov said that Moscow and Tokyo should base their relations on economic ties and not focus so much on the Kuril Islands territorial dispute. Maslyukov, who was speaking before a trip to Japan scheduled for March 14-17, said that broader bilateral relations will suffer if Tokyo links the complex set of issues surrounding the territorial dispute to relations in other areas (Kyodo, March 2). Maslyukov cochairs a Russian-Japanese committee on trade and economic issues. His trip to Japan–if indeed he survives what some say is an impending Russian government shakeup–will be his first in that capacity.

When, in 1997, Tokyo launched its diplomatic initiative to improve ties with Russia, Japanese diplomats and government officials suggested that they were departing at least in part from their former emphasis on resolution of the territorial issue as a key to broader bilateral relations. That seems, however, not to have been the case. Tokyo has continued to make a settlement of the Kuril Islands dispute a key to talks on a peace treaty. It has also linked, albeit less directly, increased economic cooperation with Russia, and especially much-needed Japanese investment in Russia’s Far East, on progress over the Kurils.

Tokyo’s reluctance in this regard appears also to be one factor in the Japanese government’s decision to suspend disbursement of US$1.5 billion in loans pledged to Russia last February. That issue was apparently on the agenda during a visit to Japan this week by Andrei Shapovalyants, Russia’s minister of the economy. Shapovalyants, who also serves as Maslyukov’s assistant on the Russian-Japanese trade and economics committee, apparently had little success during a visit to Tokyo this week in persuading the Japanese government to release another US$400 million loan tranche. According to Japanese news agencies, Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura told Shapovalyants that Tokyo would continue to make additional loan disbursements contingent on a decision by the International Monetary Fund to resume aid to Moscow. Shapovalyants suggested that Moscow has also faced “difficult” negotiations in Japan in its attempts to reschedule private sector debts. Maslyukov will apparently continue Moscow’s efforts in this area during his upcoming visit to Tokyo (Kyodo, March 3; Itar-Tass, March 4).