Statement by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Japan Taro Kono, Tokyo, May 31, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
This is my fifth meeting with Foreign Minister of Japan Taro Kono.
We believe that intensive contacts between our foreign ministries and other departments based on the agreements reached by President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe guarantee the consistent development of our relations in all areas without exception with a view to raising them to a qualitatively new level.
Today we compared our positions on the development of our relations in all areas as part of the preparations for another meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that is scheduled to take place on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka on June 29.
As for military and political issues, security issues, the settlement of various conflicts, and the development of foreign policy cooperation, we discussed all these topics in detail in the two-plus-two format yesterday. This is a result that was added to the pile in preparation for the Osaka meeting.
The Forum of the Regions of Russia and Japan has resumed its work after a nine-year interval. It was held quite recently and became a good prelude to the forthcoming Year of Interregional Exchanges between our countries in 2020.
Inter-parliamentary and inter-party ties are also becoming more active, thereby strengthening the fabric of our relations.
Trade is growing at a fairly high rate. Last year it increased by 17 per cent. It continues growing this year but not so quickly. However, in principle we hope to reach over $30 billion in the foreseeable future, a record reached in 2013.
Investment is also on the rise although its absolute growth is modest enough for the time being. It is a sign of optimism that the companies of our two countries are actively working on fairly ambitious and large projects in energy, the peaceful use of space and nuclear energy, agriculture and healthcare. Progress would certainly be facilitated by the signing of an intergovernmental agreement on trade in services and on investment as soon as possible. Today we discussed steps for beginning the negotiations as soon as possible.
Not so long ago, President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to work toward bringing exchanges of our citizens to 400,000 people a year by 2023. Although these exchanges grow every year, we still have not reached this figure. In this context, we reminded our partners today of our long-standing proposal to introduce visa-free travel between the Russian Federation and Japan, starting with business and tourist travel. We hope our dialogue on this issue will continue.
As a first step we reminded our partners of President Putin’s proposal to introduce free travel between all residents of the Sakhalin Region and the Hokkaido Prefecture. This idea is being discussed as part of the projects for joint economic activities on the four southern Kuril Islands.
Talks on carrying out joint economic activities in five approved areas have gained good momentum. Working groups on legal aspects, business models and free travel have started work. Today they agreed on the schedule of their future meetings. I hope a comprehensive report will be prepared by the meeting of our leaders in Osaka in late June.
We conscientiously fulfil the instructions of President Putin and Prime Minister Abe on a peace treaty by expediting our work on the basis of the 1956 Declaration. Contacts between our foreign ministers and our deputies that are in charge of these issues have been greatly intensified. Today we agreed on the schedule of future meetings on the peace treaty issue.
Needless to say, stepping up the negotiation process does not automatically mean narrowing the gaps in our positions. We still have quite a few problems. But, as my colleague said, we agreed not to comment in detail on these talks and we abide by this agreement. For the same reason, we asked our Japanese neighbours not to encourage, and try to tone down, attempts to stir up Japanese public opinion on this issue.
In conformity with another agreement between our leaders, today we coordinated our approaches to the continuation of visa-free exchanges between the residents of the southern Kurils and Japanese citizens, which were approved and tested in the past. These procedures substantially facilitate the travel of Japanese to the southern Kurils. Our Japanese colleagues thanked us for considering their wishes.
We discussed our cooperation in international organisations on global and regional issues. Our specific approaches far from always coincide although, in strategic terms, Russia and Japan both favour the consolidation of multilateral principles in international relations, and respect for the UN’s central coordinating role and the practice of seeking consensus. If these approaches of principle are implemented in practical positions of our Japanese colleagues, I believe our relations will score tangible progress.
Personal relationships play a very important role in international politics like in every other area. In this context, I would like to convey my sincere gratitude to Foreign Minister of Japan Taro Kono, my colleague and friend, for the atmosphere at our talks. It was rooted in trust and conducive to a friendly exchange of views. It helped us significantly to better understand each other’s positions, including difficult issues.
My delegation and I truly enjoyed the outstanding Japanese hospitality.
Foreign Minister Taro Kono has my invitation to visit Russia in return. Our contacts will continue.