Moscow’s unilateral suspension an unacceptable act

The Russian government has announced that it will suspend the implementation of an agreement between Japan and Russia aimed at the safe operation of Japanese fishing boats in waters around the northern territories.

This is an unjust, unacceptable move. It must be withdrawn immediately.

The safe operation agreement is one of four agreements between Japan and Russia in regard to fishing. There were a series of incidents in the past, including the seizure of Japanese fishing boats around the northern territories, and the agreement was concluded in 1998 to prevent such occurrences.

Annual talks determine the volume and species of fish to be caught as well as terms for operations, including a cooperation fee to be paid by the Japanese side to Russia. This year’s terms were finalized at the end of last year with the catch of Alaska pollack, Atka mackerel, octopus and other fish set at about 2,200 tons and a cooperation fee of ¥21.3 million.

In response to Russia’s action, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a press conference, “It’s regrettable that [Russia] unilaterally announced the suspension of the implementation of the agreement.” The Japanese government should lodge a strong protest.

It is not currently fishing season, but fishing for Atka mackerel starts in mid-September and for octopus in mid-October. Concern is said to be spreading among local fishermen.

The Japanese government must demand that the Russian side ensure safe operations under the agreement before the autumn fishing season begins.

As a reason for suspending the agreement, the Russian Foreign Ministry has said the Japanese side delayed signing for technical cooperation for Sakhalin State.

However, according to the Japanese government, this cooperation project is not a precondition for implementing the agreement.

Fishery talks with Russia were delayed due to its invasion of Ukraine, but of the four agreements, negotiations on salmon and trout fishing were concluded in April this year and an agreement was reached earlier this month on kelp fishing around the Habomai group of islets and Kaigarajima island.

It is incomprehensible that Russia would abruptly suspend one of the agreements it has maintained for many years.

The Russian side may be aiming to rattle Japan, which has imposed economic sanctions.

In March, the Russian government designated Japan as an unfriendly nation and suspended negotiations on the conclusion of a peace treaty with Japan.

Moscow has also announced the suspension of “visa-free exchanges,” which allow mutual visits by Japanese citizens and Russian people of the northern territories without passports or visas, as well as a “free visit” program that simplifies procedures for visits to the four northern islands by former residents.

Some believe that Russia’s latest move is simply an extension of this behavior.

It is difficult to predict what Russia will do in the future. It is essential for the Japanese government to deal resolutely with the matter.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 12, 2022)