Japan-Russia Relations

Speech by H.E. Mr. Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan,
at the Plenary Session of the
St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) 2018

May 25, 2018 St. Petersburg, Russia

May 25, 2018
Japanese

Thank you very much, Mr. Micklethwait. President Macron, Vice President Wang, and Managing Director Lagarde, it is my pleasure to join you all for this session.

President Putin, thank you very much for having me here today. I am especially grateful for you to have invited me to the very beautiful St. Petersburg. I have just visited the Hermitage Museum for the very first time and that is somewhere I have long wanted to go.

Distinguished participants,
Ladies and gentlemen,

This year the Japan national soccer team “Samurai Blue” will come to Russia, their eyes set on winning the FIFA World Cup.The Samurai Blue will fight their way through to the finals, to find themselves head to head against Russia in the final match. While it may have been sparked by a severe case of jet lag, that is my dream -- peculiarly optimistic, I admit.

Here in front of Emmanuel and Christine I dare say, this dream of mine means that France’s Les Bleus is defeated, tragically, in the semifinals, falling to none other than the Samurai Blue.

Emmanuel, you must surely have been thinking, in such a match the French team would certainly trounce Japan, but you know how the old saying goes: If you’re going to dream, you’d better dream big.

Let us just imagine how the world will look when a lasting stability comes to take hold between Japan and Russia.

We will have established a pillar of peace in a major corner of the northern and eastern hemispheres. That will be a substantial pillar that underpins the region and, indeed, the world.

At that time, the Arctic Ocean to the Bering Sea, the North Pacific, and the Sea of Japan will together form a major, arterial sea road of peace and prosperity. The islands that used to be a source of conflict will have found new potential as a logistics hub, transforming into a symbol of Japan-Russia cooperation. The Sea of Japan will also most likely change dramatically as a highway sending goods back and forth.

In Vladivostok, work to improve its beautiful port and make it a gateway to the ocean is already making headway, thanks to efforts on both the Japanese and Russian sides. Just imagine what would come and go from the Arctic Ocean to the Sea of Japan. There can be no doubt that liquefied natural gas – LNG – brought up from the Arctic Ocean gas fields, including notably Yamal LNG, will be found among that cargo. The LNG that arrives via heavy icebreakers can be loaded over into regular tankers somewhere north of Japan. After that, it would head off to users in China or in Asia, faraway in India, thanks to handling by Japan’s highly experienced corporations. Japan is the world’s largest importer of LNG. The corporation that is the world’s largest buyer of LNG is also found in Japan.

Because Japan furnishes a wealth of experience in market-making and in developing price mechanisms, we can be certain that a win-win situation will form here for Japan and Russia. Russia’s Arctic Ocean LNG will enable it to become a great swing producer impacting world markets by partnering with Japan. From the Arctic Ocean to the Bering Sea and the North Pacific Ocean and from the Sea of Japan to the Indo-Pacific Ocean, the axis of strategic antagonism that existed during the Cold War will undergo a dramatic transformation, becoming seascapes of peace and prosperity. Of course these changes will also make it a space thoroughly permeated by the rule of law. Only then will the potential held by Northern and Far East Russia be released in earnest, and the Russian economy will grow as if it had just been turbo-charged. That will be in the interests of all of Russia’s neighbors, including Japan, and will constitute an important contribution to the global economy.

Is all this simply building castles in the air? A fanciful daydream, nothing more? I think not. It is an objective we are most certainly able to reach if only we continue to take one step forward and then another.

And, ladies and gentlemen, a Japan-Russia peace treaty is a necessity in particular to make that grand vision a reality. At least, every time President Putin and I meet, we reconfirm that with each other, and it is something we have done right up to the present day.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It has been a century since the Revolution, 70 years since the end of the Second World War, and a quarter-century since a newborn Russia joined the world. Having come through a highly eventful history full of difficult times, young people in Russia now at long last seem to have begun to live their lives moving forward with their eyes firmly fixed on the future, thinking about the long term. I will say this to you forcefully and unmistakably: it will be by taking Japan as a partner that you will gain tremendous momentum as you move forward.

But words alone can’t convey that sense to you adequately. It will be necessary to put forth tangible results so that the average Russian can understand what kinds of good things will result from Japan and Russia joining hands. With that in mind, we laid out eight fields for cooperation that we proposed to Russia.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In my Cabinet there is a minister responsible for a post that I established specially, for that very purpose. (Minister Seko, may I ask you to stand for a moment? Thank you very much.) Minister Hiroshige Seko has made visits to places all around Russia ever since he assumed the post of Minister for Economic Cooperation with Russia, including not only Moscow and St. Petersburg but also Vladivostok, Voronezh, and Ekaterinburg. At the end of April, in order to visit Yamal LNG, he also went to Sabetta, where it was still very cold. This summer he also has plans to visit the Sakha Republic. All this makes him the very first Japanese minister in the history of our bilateral relations to visit so many places in Russia.

Thanks in part to the efforts he has made, the number of Japanese-Russian economic cooperation projects continues to rise everywhere from Khabarovsk to Moscow and have already surpassed 130.

There is innovation in agriculture for growing vegetables that are fresh and lush. There is a project for renovating the urban infrastructure and reducing automobile traffic jams by 30 percent. That is a project in Voronezh.

Just recently, on May 7, President Putin announced the “National Goals and Strategic Objectives through to 2024,” setting forth key policies for improving Russians’ quality of life and pressing forward with reforms to the socioeconomic infrastructure.

The eight-point cooperation plan that Japan proposed is in complete alignment with those key policy areas. Moreover, Japan has been making contributions through concrete projects. Japan hopes to become an accelerant, or a catalyst, for socioeconomic reforms in Russia.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The first role that Japan will shoulder is promoting Russians’ health. This means saving the lives of babies and small children and making it possible for elderly people to live long and healthy lives.

A rehabilitation center was completed in Vladivostok this May through Japan-Russia cooperation. Even when one suffers a stroke and becomes unable to move freely, there is no need to throw in the towel on one’s life. Japanese medical technology will brighten the lives of people who might have until now sunk down into the depths of despair. It will enable people to move.

For diagnosis and treatment performed with an endoscope, Japan’s technology is first-rate even at the global level. This is also an area in which we’ve been engaged in cooperation with Russia for quite some time.

Getting an early look by using an endoscope makes it possible to remove tumors that have begun to reveal themselves deep in the internal organs.

Finding issues early brings down the costs of medical treatment and extends people’s long and healthy lifespans. That is help for Russians in changing their lifestyle. Japan, which hopes to engage in that kind of cooperation, is for the Russian people a partner that extends their lives and fosters hope.

President Putin has said he will raise the average Russian life expectancy to 80 by 2030. To achieve that, allowing Japan to work its magic will surely be in the cards.

The second role that Japan will shoulder is assisting in boosting productivity. What tactics and stratagems are needed to increase by even a single item the output coming off of a production line per unit of time? How should the equipment best be laid out, and where should tools and jigs best be set? People coming from Russia are now visiting various kinds of Japanese companies to acquire that kind of wisdom by seeing workplaces with their own eyes and physically engaging with things with their own hands.

In fiscal 2017, 144 Russian businesspersons visited Japan to observe well-known Japanese companies, spending a total of 115 days there on site. One outcome has been a factory manufacturing car parts in Ulyanovsk Oblast slashing the manufacturing time for its components from 90 minutes to 30. I have heard that there are even examples of the incidence of defective products improving dramatically, from 22 percent down to effectively zero, at a different auto parts factory in the same oblast.

Those kinds of efforts are called “kaizen” in Japanese. As you know, that word is becoming increasingly well-established in Russia as well.

Workers manning the production lines lift their gaze to about the height of the factory ceiling and take in a panoramic view of the entire manufacturing process. The innovations and wisdom of coming up with ideas for improvements through that approach have enhanced productivity at Japan’s factories. At these times, workers shift away from being only on the side receiving orders and instructions. They become virtually like designers, seeing the entire production line three-dimensionally. It is there, changing the workers in that way, where Japan’s secrets of increasing productivity lie.

When you have more workers brimming with confidence and a sense of duty who also feel the value in working, productivity increases. What Japan can provide is a labor culture that relies on workers individually.

Ladies and gentlemen,

President Putin and I have made it a habit to meet as frequently as we can. Tomorrow we will move our venue to Moscow and again engage in thoroughgoing talks. It will be our 21st summit meeting. Over the last 20 times we have met, we have built a relationship of trust.

The reason that Japan-Russia relations have now begun to move in a big way is that President Putin and I are absolutely determined that we will get our bilateral relations in motion and have both done our very utmost towards this end.

If we do not change things now, then when will we change them? If the two of us do not get our bilateral relations moving, then who else will get them moving? We both have this firmly engraved in our minds every time we meet. That is the relationship President Putin and I share.

The result has already been a rapid change away from thinking that was limited to, “I can do X and Y, but no more” to a broader way of thinking. Our approach is now, “Well, if I can do X and Y, then surely I can do A, B, or C as well.”

A company supplying hot spring resorts came from Hokkaido to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, to spread among the local people the joys of relaxing in a steaming bath. This all started with a breezy idea of, “All right, let’s just give it a try.” I imagine that this business would not have come all the way from Japan had it not had the confidence that it could achieve anything it put its mind to.

The practice of Japan and Russia joining hands in this way is just beginning to grow. This is exactly what President Putin and I have kept hoping for.

The slogan of this year’s Forum is “Building a Trust Economy.” I would like you all to recognize that Japan and Russia are most certainly together engaged in the practice of building a trust economy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We wish for Northeast Asia to become a place of peace and prosperity that is truly stable.

This time, the U.S.-North Korea summit meeting will not take place. What is important is whether or not North Korea will comply with relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions and carry out denuclearization in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner. And then, there is the abduction issue. Will North Korea return all the people it lawlessly stole away from Japan? When we make sure with our own eyes several significant “ifs” and are able to be satisfied, then at long last Japan will be able to conceive of cooperative relations with North Korea viewed over the long term.

North Korea has diligent people and abundant resources. If North Korea chooses good policies and moves down the right path, then North Korea can enrich its nation and its people.

That is precisely why, in order to accelerate this process and move it in a favorable direction, what will become even more critical than ever is cooperation between Russia and Japan. It will also be necessary to work together to push North Korea in the right direction through solid cooperation with France, China, of course the United States, the Republic of Korea, and people across the world. In order to do that, the international community must work in unity to tackle the issues North Korea poses.

Vladimir, the two of us have held talks time and time again shouldering our respective viewpoints on history, as well as our own particular public opinion and patriotic spirit. And we will continue to hold talks into the future.

We now stand at a historical turning point. The path we should take and the efforts we should make are all entirely clear. It is working for future generations in Japan and Russia. It is Japan and Russia becoming a major force for safeguarding and fostering regional and global prosperity through the Japanese and Russian peoples further deepening their relationship of mutual trust, concluding a peace treaty, and building up lasting peace and stability between our two nations. And it is overcoming all possible difficulties, with each of us demonstrating the utmost courage in order to make that a reality.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for listening.