Japan to defer economic cooperation projects with Russia over Ukraine

© Kyodo News

Japan will put economic cooperation projects with Russia on hold for the time being, including an eight-point plan intended to break the deadlock over a territorial issue, the top government spokesman said Friday as Tokyo hardens its stance on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the Russian aggression in Ukraine has made it difficult to deepen bilateral cooperation in the economic field. Japan has taken a spate of sanctions including an asset freeze targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Based on the stance that government projects related to economic cooperation with Russia, including the eight-point plan, should be put on hold, we will respond by taking into account our energy security and humanitarian standpoint," Matsuno told a press briefing.

The eight-point plan was proposed in 2016 when then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was seeking closer ties with Putin to resolve the territorial dispute over a group of islets off Hokkaido and advance talks toward a postwar peace treaty.

Private-sector companies have been involved in various projects in the eight areas such as energy, health care and high-tech technology. They include a liquefied natural gas development project.

"There are a variety of energy, health care and other projects in the private sector and their progress varies," Matsuno said.

"We believe due consideration will be made to each project as needed."

Japan has strongly criticized the invasion as unilateral use of force to change the status quo in violation of international law.

Lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have questioned the government's stance on pursuing bilateral economic cooperation while seeking to isolate Russia for its military attack on Ukraine with other members of the Group of Seven nations.

The Ukrainian crisis came as bilateral talks over the disputed islets, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, had stalled.

Russia is moving toward nationalizing the assets of foreign firms that leave the country, a step seen by the West as retaliation for the sanctions imposed on it.

Matsuno said the government is closely watching the policy that would harm Japanese firms with "concern."

"We have requested to the Russian side through diplomatic channels that the legitimate interests of Japanese firms and people should not be undermined," the spokesman said.