Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday pledged to step up talks with Russia to conclude a postwar peace treaty among other major diplomatic challenges this year.
"As we are at a major turning point, we will aggressively purse the resolution of Japan's postwar diplomatic concerns," Abe said in a new year statement, referring to peace treaty talks with Russia, improving ties with China and an expected meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
(Collage of photos showing Abe, Putin, and the Habomai islets)
"Japan will draw the global spotlight as we will welcome top world leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, as host of the Group of 20 summit" in Osaka in June.
Tokyo and Moscow have yet to sign a peace treaty to formally end wartime hostilities due to a dispute over four islands off Hokkaido that are controlled by Russia and claimed by Japan. The islands were seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.
Abe and Putin agreed in November to accelerate talks based on a 1956 joint statement, in which Moscow agreed to hand over the two smaller islands to Tokyo after a peace pact is concluded.
Abe will visit Russia around Jan. 21 for a summit with Putin, according to government sources.
On the domestic front, the prime minister said Japan will see a historic turning point when it begins a new era, as Crown Prince Naruhito will ascend the throne on May 1, following his father Emperor Akihito's retirement, the first abdication in Japan in around 200 years.
"I am determined to take a leading role to make (2019) a year to 'open Japan's tomorrow'...beyond the current Heisei" era that started upon the current emperor's reign in 1989, he said.
Abe promised to tackle the country's low birthrate and aging population, with a free public preschool education program set to begin in October for all children aged between 3 and 5.
"We will aggressively invest in children and transform our country's social security system for all generations ranging from children and people of working age to the elderly," the premier said.