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Tokyo • Japan's trade minister said Monday his country's economic relations with Russia have grown more smoothly than political ties, with about 30 joint projects ready to be signed regardless of a breakthrough in territorial issues.
Trade minister Hiroshige Seko said a final decision on the projects is up to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Japan later this week.
A dispute over the southern Kuril islands, which Japan calls the Northern Territories, has kept the two countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending their World War II hostilities. The Soviet Union seized them in the war's final days.
Although Abe has been pushing for progress, many believe a breakthrough is unlikely during the talks on Thursday and Friday. Seko said closer economic ties that benefit both sides will help foster trust.
Seko said economic cooperation is progressing well, with preparations for the projects drawing together officials from the trade ministry as well as other areas such as agriculture, health, land and infrastructure.
Stronger economic ties could improve the political relationship, creating a positive cycle that eventually leads to a breakthrough in the dispute between the two sides, he said.
"We will have a win-win situation, at least in economic relations. We are not just giving things away to Russia," Seko said. "Our projects are not for Russia to just eat and run."
Japan would provide advanced medical, health and environmental technology and help with the industrialization of Russia's Far East, while receiving expertise from Moscow in decommissioning nuclear plants, energy and cyber security, he said.
None of the planned projects involve the disputed islands, apparently to separate business from politics.
Seko said the outcome of Abe's talks with Putin is unpredictable. Abe has invited Putin to a secluded hot springs resort in Yamaguchi prefecture, his home state in western Japan, for talks in a quiet atmosphere on Thursday. They will move to Tokyo on Friday for more talks.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said recently that Moscow sees progress in economic ties as a key condition for success in talks on the disputed islands.
Russia has pledged adherence to a 1956 declaration in which the Soviet Union said it was ready to hand over two of the four islands to Japan. The sparsely inhabited islands, which lie just north of Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido, are surrounded by rich natural and marine resources. They also serve as a strategic vantage point for the Russian military.