Japan hopes to tap Siberian reserves

Jan 12, 2003 01:00 AM

Hoping to open Siberia's vast oil reserves to energy-hungry Japan, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi wrapped up his four-day visit to Russia with a stopover in this frontier city on its far eastern fringe. Greeted by ice sculptures and Christmas lights, Koizumi arrived before dawn on his official plane from Moscow, where he and President Vladimir Putin signed a pact outlining the need to expand ties and quickly resolve a territorial dispute that has kept the two countries from concluding a peace treaty after World War II.
In Moscow, Koizumi strongly urged Putin to push forward with projects to tap Siberia's energy resources and to build a pipeline from Siberia to the Pacific. Access to Russian oil and gas is increasingly important to resource-poor Japan, which relies heavily on oil from the Middle East.
"This region has great resources of energy," Koizumi said. "Japan must import most of its oil from abroad. There is much that we can do for each other."

Koizumi, who has been more open to improving trade and less insistent on resolving the border dispute than his predecessors, continued to pitch Japan's support for the pipeline -- and repeated his concerns over developments in neighbouring North Korea -- in meetings with senior officials.
North Korea figured strongly in the first item on Koizumi's agenda, a meeting with Konstantin Pulikovsky, Putin's representative for federal affairs in the Russian Far East. Pulikovsky has close ties to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and exchanged views with Koizumi on both the concerns over the North's nuclear development program and a deadlock between Tokyo and Pyongyang over the fate of several Japanese abducted by North Korean agents decades ago.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said that although North Korea's recent decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty "is not a threat to the security of Russia... we are definitely advocating the status of a non-nuclear power for North Korea."
The Kremlin is pushing for a peaceful resolution of the crisis, he said. "Russia is coordinating its policy with China, Japan, the United States and both Koreas," Ivanov said.

The five known surviving abductees are now in Japan, but North Korea has demanded they be returned. The tug-of-war has chilled what had been a budding detente between the two Asian neighbours. Japanese officials said Pulikovsky described Kim as a man who could be reasoned with, but who must be treated fairly.
"He reacts when he feels he is being pressured from outside," Pulikovsky said, according to a Japanese delegation official who briefed reporters after the talks. "But he can be negotiated with if he is treated as an equal partner."

Koizumi, the first Japanese prime minister to visit the Russian Far East, has denied rumours he wants to enlist Pulikovsky to act as a go-between with Kim to break the impasse. Instead, he stressed before his arrival that the daylong stopover en route to Tokyo was primarily intended to symbolize Japan's desire to expand trade with the region and Japan's interest in access to its oil reserves and natural gas, particularly in the area around the island of Sakhalin.
Japanese officials said Putin was wary about the financing of the multibillion dollar mega projects and the possible environmental problems the development might cause.

Rival pipeline plans have also been put forward, including one involving China. Still, local officials are eager to woo Japanese investment.
"The main thing is to create conditions for cooperation," the governor of the Khabarovsk Territory, Viktor Ivashov, was quoted as telling. Ivashov, who hosted a lunch for Koizumi, said proposals to cooperate on projects involving ecology, the development of infrastructure and the construction of gas pipelines have been made to Tokyo.

Source: The Russia Journal Daily
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