“The Northern territory”: the limitations due to the pandemic and the differences in the legal system. The prospects of a referendum in Russia – wall for the development of joint business (Hokkaido Shimbun, Japan)

The governments of Russia and Japan after about four and a half months resumed the discussion on joint economic activities on Southern Kuriles. Meanwhile, in connection with the spread of the epidemic, a new coronavirus conducting tours and other activities, which in the summer was planned by the Japanese side, was complicated. Progress on the specification of the spheres of activity are not yet available.

The biggest hurdle — the legal system in the Islands, without which it will not do to travel to the “Northern territories” and implementation of projects, however, the agreement for her to reach and fails. Another problem is the prohibition on alienation of the territories, which, apparently, will be spelled out in the new Constitution. This will further complicate the territorial negotiations.

On may 5 both governments in the videoconference held meeting of the working group at the level of Deputy foreign Ministers, which was last held in late January. The parties reaffirmed their intention in the near future begin to organize tourist trips (test the first tour took place last fall) and to take measures to reduce the amount of garbage.

Meanwhile, under the influence of the pandemic of the novel coronavirus this year postponed indefinitely visa-free travel for the former residents of the Islands. It is also impossible to organize tourist trips to the Islands and check on the ground. After the meeting of the working group, the representative of the foreign Ministry of Japan said that everything will depend on of a novel coronavirus, however, beginning in the fall, visiting four Islands is complicated by bad weather conditions. In this regard, the Japanese side is strengthening concerns about the fact that this year it will be impossible to do anything, except for consultations.

As for the joint business activity on the Islands, about the commencement of the deliberations has agreed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting in Japan in December 2016. For three and a half years, discussed five areas, including the development of aquaculture. “Consultations on the content of the activity conducted. In particular, tourism can be implemented at any time”, — said a source in Russian diplomatic circles.

Nevertheless, even if the pandemic will subside, the problems of the structure for tourists of the Islands, sovereignty over which is claimed by Russia and Japan, and a legal framework for economic activities is not solved.

After reaching an agreement, the Japanese side insisted that the joint business need to create a “special system”, which will not hurt the legal position of both countries. The fact is that if you apply the Russian laws, it would mean recognizing Russian sovereignty over the Islands. Therefore, the parties suggested the establishment of a framework for activities on the basis of special rules.

In turn, the Russian side has repeatedly stressed that the rules must not contradict the Russian legislation. During a press conference on June 4, the official representative of Russian foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova also said that the activities will be implemented in accordance with the Russian laws. She stressed that we should use existing special economic zones of Russia.

In the foreign policy agencies of Russia and Japan argued that the only possible “chameleonesque” an agreement that people will understand that the system is not contrary to the laws of their own country. Meanwhile, the Russian source stressed that the current legal system of Russia will not be easy to reach agreement such as the program of visa-free travel to the Islands, which was launched in 1992 in the form of respect of the legal positions of both countries.

In 1998, Russia and Japan also signed an agreement on the so-called “safe fishery” and the South Kuril Islands, however, in comparison with the sea on land far more obstacles to economic activity: different stakeholder structure, legal system and much more.

1 July in Russia will hold a referendum on amendments to the Constitution, including the prohibition of the alienation of territories. The Putin administration emphasizes that the Southern Kuril Islands of Russia withdrew on the results of the Second world war. There is no doubt that as a result of the amendments, public opinion will rise against return of the territories of Japan. The Abe administration had hoped to settle the territorial issue on the basis of joint business activity, however, the situation is only complicated.