August 1, 2008｜Russia
Chief, Sakhalin Representative Office, Hokkaido Government
As President Medvedev emphasized in Toyako, Hokkaido, “Our relations are developing dynamically” and recently Japan–Russia economic relations have shown remarkable growth, with the value of trade at 2.5 trillion yen, a 1.6-fold increase on the previous year. Meanwhile, it can probably be said that the economic situation here in Sakhalin Oblast too has been designated a higher ranking within the country as a whole, with, taking as an example, the mean monthly wage rising to 23,190 rubles in 2007 (average value for the year: calculated from the data of the State Statistical Committee in Sakhalin Oblast) and there also being the boon of the continental shelf projects. Such a sense of an economic boom for Russia and Sakhalin has come across to the business world within Hokkaido also, and in addition to that of “food,” raised in my last piece, interest has been drawn from various lines of business. In particular, the following sectors in which Hokkaido excels are anticipated to be key items of subsequent economic exchange.
The first one I want to mention is “tourism.” The most important points therein are probably “weekend trips” and “winter tourism.” The target for “weekend trips” is the “middle stratum” of incomes. Calls can often be heard asking for “cheap, close and short” tours, such as a schedule sandwiched into a Saturday and Sunday, using ferries, and enjoying Japanese food, shopping and hot springs. In addition, in Sakhalin alpine-skiing devotees are increasing. This winter they completed a new cable-car at the ski slope in Yuzhno Sakhalinsk, and it has also been operating at night. The skiers here are venturing as far as Niseko and Sapporo. The Sapporo Snow Festival is also as popular as ever, and the winter flights which had been conspicuously almost empty up to the present have become filled with Russians at New Year and holiday weekends.
Moreover, “construction” is also as important a sector as in the past. Project-related construction has entered the off-season, yet nevertheless the construction of roads, public facilities, and residential housing is taking place all over, and a definite energy can be seen in construction. Regarding housing, not only “apartments,” which have been sensible from Soviet times, but also wooden detached houses and low-rise apartment buildings have been increasing, and it is thought that the room is large to make good use of the technology aimed at the cold regions that exist in Hokkaido.
The latest trend is probably the “environment,” which also became a major subject at the G8 summit. In Hokkaido, in February this year, they concluded the fourth-term “economic cooperation development program” with three regions of the Russian Far East, and for the first time “exchange relating to environmental protection” was incorporated within the program. Above all, in Sakhalin, the problems in the living environment—including disposal of household rubbish and industrial waste, atmospheric and water pollution, and water and wastewater—are gaining a high level of attention from citizens, and business chances must lie therein as well.
This year it is ten years since Hokkaido and Sakhalin Oblast signed the “Friendship and Economic Cooperation Partnership”. In that time, as a frontrunner in Japan–Russia exchange, it has deepened relations. At this juncture, taking advantage of the summit meeting in Hokkaido, Japan and Russia are attempting to step forward into a new era. I think that each of the initiatives that our regions undertake—either economic exchange or cultural exchange—must eventually lead to a resolution of the concerns remaining between the two countries. For the development of more dynamic relations, while making best use of areas of specialty, even if the things which can be done are small, I think the steady accumulating of actions will have a role in interregional exchange.