Russia and Japan have moved to dramatically upgrade bilateral ties, holding their first joint Defence and Foreign Ministers’ meeting and agreeing to expand their defence and security cooperation.

The two-plus-two ministerial meeting on security held in Tokyo on Saturday “marks a new stage in Russian-Japanese relations”, said Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said the meeting had opened a “new page for Japan-Russia cooperation in security and defence”.

Russia has become only the third country after the United States and Australia to have established the two-plus-two mechanism of bilateral interaction at the ministerial level with Japan, while Japan is the first country in Asia to have this arrangement with Russia.

Russia and Japan have agreed to conduct the first ever anti-terrorism and anti-piracy exercises between the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force and the Russian Navy. Till now the two navies have jointly trained only for search and rescue operations.

The two countries have also agreed to step up their cooperation in multilateral security forums in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Boosting cooperation in the field of security, and not just in the field of economic and people exchanges, means that we are improving overall Japan-Russia ties,” the Japanese Foreign Minister told a joint news conference with the Russian Ministers.

After a decade-long drift, political relations between Russia and Japan took an upward trajectory following the election of Shinzo Abe as Japan’s Prime Minister last December. He became the first Japanese leader in 10 years to pay an official visit to Russia in April this year for a summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The two leaders agreed to revive stalled talks on a peace treaty. The first vice-ministerial-level meeting on the issue took place in September, and the next meeting is scheduled for early next year. Russia and Japan have never signed a peace treaty after World War II because of long-running territorial dispute the four Kuril Islands, claimed by Japan.

The warming of Russia-Japan ties is being watched warily in China, which is locked in a bitter territorial dispute with Japan.

A Xinhua report from Tokyo said Russia and Japan remained “at variance” over Japan’s strategy of “active pacifism” and the Japan-U.S. missile defence system, in addition to their Kuril Islands row.

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