On April 27, 2017, Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe arrived in Moscow. The main topic of the talks with the Russian President Vladimir Putin is the joint economic activity in the southern Kuril Islands. Yaroslav Lissovolik, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club in an interview with www.valdaiclub.com noted, that in international practice countries often agree on the conduct of joint economic activities in the disputed territories.
There are quite a lot of examples when countries somehow tried to settle territorial disputes through the creation of joint economic interaction zones. They are mainly associated with islands and sea borders. Such projects are characteristic for the Asian region, for the countries of East and South-East Asia, including Japan.
One example is Cambodia and Vietnam. In 1982 an agreement was reached on joint development of disputed territories. One of the objectives of the agreement was to overcome differences over the ownership of several islands. This agreement involved cooperation in use or extraction of marine resources, joint monitoring and patrolling of disputed territories.
"It is interesting that Japan signed such kind of agreement with South Korea in 1974. This agreement presumed the joint development of a fairly large territory in the East China Sea," Lissovolik said.
The expert mentioned other examples, such as disputes between Saudi Arabia and Sudan, Australia and Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. There is also a well-known territorial dispute between Great Britain and Argentina over Falkland Islands (Malvinas). Despite serious disagreements between London and Buenos Aires, they concluded cooperation agreements in the field of fishery.
"There are many such agreements. A category of similar fishing zones exists in East Asia, where China, Japan and Korea participate. Therefore, we cannot say that such agreements have a rare, exceptional character when we look at the international practice," the expert noted.
Among positive examples of joint economic activities there is a dispute between Australia and East Timor. These countries have not yet established an official sea border because of disagreements over the ownership of oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea. However, after lengthy talks, in January 2017 the parties announced significant progress in the negotiations and promised to conclude a final agreement on the maritime border by September of this year.
"In most cases these are issues that are solved long enough and represent an evolutionary path that can take decades. However, if we go back to Argentina-UK case, the dispute is not resolved, but the economic cooperation, even despite a severe rhetoric, is still observed. "
It is difficult to find any quick solutions of territorial issues through economic cooperation agreements, the expert believes. "However, this is also a kind of solution that translates the issue of interaction between the two countries to a greater extent from the political to the economic area."
According to Lissovolik, a bilateral economic agreement is a reasonable way for Japan and Russia, because the potential for cooperation between the two countries is really enormous.
"These are two countries that for a long time did not trade enough and invested in each other. It is possible to say that this mechanism of joint economic activity in this region is the key to eliminate economic anomalies, when the potential for economic cooperation is not used. "
Moreover, Japan already has experience to soften territorial disputes through the conclusion of agreements on joint economic activities, the expert concluded.