Japan, Russia thaw relations in Siberia 'No neckties' summit produces warm intentions for economic cooperation

November 02, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

KRASNOYARSK, Russia -- With a little fishing, a little boating and a little patience with the Siberian snow and drizzle, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto hacked away yesterday at the ice that has paralyzed their countries' relations for half a century.

Their meeting at a muddy forest resort on the Yenisei River created a warm, reflective atmosphere for the first Russian-Japanese summit since before World War II, spurring proclamations on joint projects and good intentions to forge an economic relationship that will benefit both sides.

"This day was very successful -- I would even say more successful than anyone expected," Yeltsin spokesman Sergei V. Yastrzhembsky said after the two leaders had spent an afternoon casually endorsing plans for cooperation in oil extraction, nuclear technology, high-tech training and a much-needed upgrade of the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

"This should lead to a real increase in Japanese investment in the Russian economy," Yastrzhembsky said.

The breakthrough after 50 years of a mutual silent treatment came amid the evolving acknowledgment by both sides that the subject of their standoff -- sovereignty over four barren, wind-swept islands known as the southern Kurils -- should not be allowed to continue shutting Japan out of the economic revolution transforming Russia.

Despite Japan's wealth and proximity to the Russian Far East, where much of this country's mineral resources are embedded, its investments in Russia have been few compared to those of Western Europe and the United States. Bilateral trade has also been unnaturally light for the two Pacific neighbors -- Japan-Russia trade peaked in 1990 and has since dropped by 63 percent to less than $5 billion last year.

But the ambitious plan unveiled at this Siberian summit envisions broad joint action to put Japanese technology and know-how to work in revitalizing Russian industry in exchange for energy and security -- through increased military cooperation -- from Moscow.

Yastrzhembsky said specifics of the numerous development deals will be worked out over the next few weeks by a joint government commission, headed on the Russian side by First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Y. Nemtsov -- the man many view as a potential successor to the aging Yeltsin.

Yeltsin and Hashimoto also agreed to step up military VTC cooperation in the form of exchange visits between their general staffs. On the issue of international activities, Japan pledged to back Russia's application for membership in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, likely a quid pro quo for Moscow's support for Japan's quest for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

During their talks and outdoor ambling, Yeltsin also agreed to pay a similar "no-neckties" visit to Japan next spring. A date is expected to be set at the conclusion of the Krasnoyarsk meeting today.

The tightening of economic and military ties reflects Russia's need for significant investment to overcome the economic shambles left by communism, and Japan's desire to build new security bridges in the region increasingly dominated by populous China.

Energy is another imperative for Tokyo, because Japan has no such resources of its own and apparently will not be able to reach its goal of expanding its nuclear program because of a series of accidents and growing public opposition to new nuclear plants.

Pub Date: 11/02/97

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