Japan's trade minister on Wednesday dismissed concerns that boosting economic ties with Russia as part of a push for progress on a decades-old territorial row would mainly benefit Moscow, saying any business deals would be "win-win" for both.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is betting his close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the lure of Japanese investment in fields from medical technology to energy could ease progress in the dispute over four islands seized by Russia at the end of World War Two when the leaders meet in Japan next month.
The feud over the islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in Russia, has kept Tokyo and Moscow from signing a peace treaty formally ending their conflict and strengthening ties in the face of a rising China.
"This is not a matter of Japan giving money to Russia. These are all projects that will provide business chances for Japanese firms," Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko, now in charge of economic cooperation with Russia, told Reuters.
"These projects ... will cultivate new growth areas for Japanese firms and in the sense they will also be a plus for Russia, they will be win-win."
Seko also suggested progress in joint economic projects might hinge on progress towards resolving the territorial row.
"These projects will take several years. We are not paying money on Dec. 15," he said. "It would be up to the prime minister but there will be opportunities to make decisions along the way while watching progress in the talks on a peace treaty."
Seko declined to give any details of progress on 30 priority projects that the two sides are discussing ahead of the Dec. 15 meeting between Abe and Putin in the former's home constituency in Yamaguchi, southwestern Japan. Putin and Russian business executives will travel to Tokyo the next day.
But he said private firms were showing positive interest.
Japanese firms have long complained about the business environment in Russia. Among their concerns are an opaque and changeable legal system, burdensome bureaucracy and corruption, according to surveys by Japanese business lobby Keidanren.
Japanese companies are also wary of running foul of Western sanctions imposed on Russia after it annexed Crimea in 2014.