June 26, 2019
Japan, Russia likely to skip agreement on travel to northern territories at G20.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin are unlikely to agree on a framework to facilitate travel to the northern territories at their bilateral meeting to be held as early as Saturday on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit, according to Japanese government sources.
Since April, the two governments have been studying a system to grant people traveling between the two countries and the northern territories special passport and visa treatment. The system would enable joint economic activities without harming the legal positions of Japan and Russia, which both claim sovereignty over the four islands.
Japan had been considering a Russian proposal to allow short-term visa exemptions for travel between Hokkaido and Sakhalin in the Russian Far East, with the aim of reaching an agreement on the issue at the G20 summit, the sources said.
However, because Russia continued to claim sovereignty over the four islands at foreign vice-ministerial and bureau-chief level negotiations in Moscow on June 19-21, officials were unable to find a path forward on the issue.
Legal issues concerning individual joint economic projects in fields such as tourism are also making it difficult for the governments to rapidly implement joint economic activities.
The Japanese government will still seek to maintain momentum for peace treaty negotiations with Russia at the bilateral meeting. It plans to offer economic cooperation in fields such as medicine, and to propose allowing former residents of the islands to continue visiting graves there by plane.