Japan, Russia agree to cooperate over Asian security

Japan and Russia agreed at a ministerial meeting Saturday to expand joint exercises between their defense forces and advance their cooperation in multilateral consultative frameworks covering security affairs in the Asia-Pacific region.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and their Russian counterparts Sergey Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu reached the agreements during a "two-plus-two" meeting on security held in Tokyo, the first such meeting between the two countries.

The meeting was aimed at building confidence between Japan and Russia as Tokyo seeks to make progress in negotiations to resolve a long-running territorial dispute that has prevented the two countries from signing a post-World War II peace treaty.

The ministers are also believed to have compared notes on issues relating to East Asian security, including North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

In his opening remarks at the talks, Kishida said Saturday's meeting has opened a "new page for Japan-Russia cooperation in security and defense," noting that deepening such cooperation will contribute to regional peace and stability.

Lavrov said Japanese and Russian leaders are aiming to strengthen confidence and expand cooperation on regional and global issues, while Shoigu said that through mutual efforts Japan and Russia can raise their understanding of new threats, such as international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to a "new level."

The ministers agreed to conduct joint antiterrorism and antipiracy exercises between the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Russian navy.

Japan and Russia will also cooperate in discussing security and disaster relief in multilateral settings, such as the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum, while sharing information on U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Japan also sought understanding from Russia about its security policies, including the proposed establishment of a U.S.-style National Security Council and moves within the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe toward allowing Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

Russia, meanwhile, voiced concerns over the antiballistic missile shield jointly developed by Japan and the United States.

The ministers agreed to hold the two-plus-two meeting regularly. The next meeting is expected to be held next year in Moscow.

During a foreign ministerial meeting on Friday, Kishida and Lavrov agreed to hold talks between deputy foreign ministers sometime between the end of January and the beginning of February to discuss the territorial dispute.

The two ministers also discussed what themes should be on the agenda between their deputies during the second round of negotiations, which would follow the first round held in Moscow in August. Tokyo expects the upcoming round to be held in Japan.

In April, Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to resume stalled negotiations over the sovereignty of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group off Hokkaido.

The Russian-held islands were seized by the Soviet Union shortly after Japan's surrender in 1945.

Japan also has two-plus-two ministerial arrangements with the United States and Australia, with an agreement to launch one with France. Russia has held similar two-plus-two talks with the United States, Britain, France and Italy.

Lavrov and Shoigu, who arrived in Tokyo on Friday, are expected to leave later on Saturday after having a working lunch with their Japanese counterparts.