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Russian academic expects better relations with Japan under new PM

RIA Novosti

15:51 16/09/2009 MOSCOW, September 16 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's relations with Japan are likely to improve under the country's new prime minister, a Russian academic said on Wednesday.

Former opposition leader Yukio Hatoyama was voted in as prime minster at a special session in parliament on Wednesday, ending half a century of almost continual conservative rule.

"I think the new premier — the grandson of [former prime minister] Ichiro Hatoyama — will try to continue the family tradition and significantly improve relations between Russia and Japan. All the more since he is no stranger to Russia, and knows it better than any previous Japanese premiers," Valery Kistanov, who heads the Japanese Research Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Far East Institute, told RIA Novosti.

However, he said Hatoyama's pledge to make swift progress on the key dispute between the countries, over the Kuril Islands, may be overly optimistic.

The four southern islands of the chain to the northeast of Japan were annexed by the Soviet Union after World War II. Tokyo's continued claim over the islands has so far prevented Russia and Japan from signing a formal World War II peace treaty.

"He has promised to achieve progress on the 'territorial issue', within a very short period, from six months to one year, but I think he is a little optimistic. I think this is a complex long-term problem," Kistanov said.

"But if the new premier manages to improve the atmosphere, which has deteriorated in our bilateral relations, this will be an achievement. I think he understands that the territorial problem must not be made the cornerstone of our relations."

Hatoyama, 62, who leads the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), won a landslide victory in last month's general election on promises to reverse the country's economic decline and cut taxes and bureaucracy.

The Russian academic said: "The Cabinet will have to work hard to justify these hopes...The Japanese people are patient, and understand that all problems cannot be solved in a short time, but just how patient they are, time will tell."

The new premier's first task will to formally appoint a new Cabinet. The premier has named former DPJ leader Katsuya Okada for the post of foreign minister, and party secretary general Hirohisa Fujii is expected to become finance chief.

Until the election, Taro Aso's Liberal Democratic Party had maintained virtually unbroken power in Japan since 1955, apart from a 10-month break in 1993.

Hatoyama has led the DPJ for 11 years. He was previously an assistant professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology, and holds an engineering PhD from Stanford University.


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