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The new and the old in the issue of Kuriles

15.04.2013 16:53

Larisa Vladimirova

Since the end of World War II, the issue of the disputed South Kuril Islands ownership has been a major obstacle to the full settlement of the Russian-Japanese relations and the signing of the peace treaty. Tokyo's position is that the peace treaty will be concluded only if all the disputed islands come back under the Japanese jurisdiction. Meanwhile Japan has refused Russia's proposal to establish a joint commission of historians to find a compromise on the issue of the Kuril Islands.

Every prime minister, every election winning party intends to return the Kuril Islands. Meanwhile in Japan there are parties that claim not only to the Southern Kuril Islands, but to all the Kuril Islands up to Kamchatka as well as to the southern part of Sakhalin Island. Also in Japan a political movement was organized to return the "northern territories", conducting regular propaganda activities.

At the same time, the Japanese pretend there is no border with Russia near the Kuril Islands. The South Kuril Islands belonging to Russia on all maps and postcards are shown as the territory of Japan. Japanese mayors and police chiefs are appointed to these islands. Japanese school children learn Russian - in case the islands are returned to Japan. Moreover, children from kindergartens too are taught to show "Northern Territories" on the map. Thus, an idea is supported that Japan does not end here.

As a result of this propaganda the Japanese do not doubt that Russia will give them the Kuril Islands. Moreover, the Japanese are confident that the islands will be returned in the near future, avoiding the thought that it could be otherwise. At the same time, they very carefully examine every word spoken in Russia, any behavior of Russian leaders concerning the Kuril Islands, and treat them as long as it is profitable for Tokyo. However, in the hope that eventually the disputed islands - Kunashir, Shikotan, Iturup and Habomai will be returned to them, the Japanese are not going to invest money there in the future. This is seen by the example of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, which is much behind of the south of Japan, and whose development the Japanese government does not want to fund.

In the meantime, Japanese businessmen from the Japanese city of Nemuro understand that in case of the return of the "northern territories" to the country, they will go bankrupt. It is thanks to Russian tourists that this former town in ruins has blossomed. This is precisely why the descendants of the former inhabitants of the Kuril Islands are not going to return to the Kuril Islands. Except perhaps antediluvians intend to return to the islands, in order that their graves were, along with those of their ancestors. And as long as these people live, the authorities are actively using them, for they understand that in the course of time an occasion "to return refugees to the Kuril Islands" will simply disappear. So this makes Tokyo's hopes of including the island in its borders unrealistic.

By decision of the Government of Japan, from February 7, 1982, the country annually celebrates the "Day of Northern Territories". On this day of all days in 1855, the Treaty of Shimoda was signed, the first Russian-Japanese treaty, according to which the Southern Kuril Islands ? Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai went to Japan. On this day a "nationwide meeting for the return of the northern territories" is traditionally held, which is attended by the Prime Minister and government ministers, parliamentary deputies from the ruling and opposition political parties, the former residents of the southern part of the Kuril Islands. In this case, dozens of ultrarightist groups' propaganda buses painted with slogans and under militaristic flags provided with powerful speakers, arrive to the streets of the Japanese capital and shuttle between the Parliament and the Russian Embassy. At the maximum permissible volume, old military marches and requirements in broken Russian to return Japan the "northern territories" resound from them. However, the organization of meetings in Japan for the return of the "northern territories" is not the best way to strengthen the partnership and the atmosphere of mutual understanding and trust between the two countries, because the manner in which "the Day of the Northern Territories" is celebrated prevents the resolution of the Kuril problem.

The Russian government has repeatedly stated that the sovereignty over the South Kuril Islands is not subject to discussions, and Russia will strengthen its presence on them, by taking all the necessary efforts. In particular, the Federal Target Program for the Social and Economic Development of the Kuril Islands is being implemented due to which infrastructure facilities are under construction on the former Japanese "northern territories", a new airport is under construction in Kurilsk, the construction of a landing stage in the Bay of Whales is almost finished, a road between the settlements is asphalted. It is also planned to construct aquaculture facilities, kindergartens and hospitals. So the assistance previously provided by Japan to the people of the Kuril Islands is no longer needed. Meanwhile, Japan has not given any answer to Russia's proposal to develop the Kuril Islands with mutual benefit. Moreover, the Japanese government encourages foreign firms to refrain from participating in the development of the Kuril Islands, as this will be the recognition de facto of the Russian Federation's power over the territory. Alongside with that, harbour engineering on the island of Iturup is carried out by the South Korean Kumuto leading building company. In this connection, the Koreans claim that since Iturup has rich nature, favoring for location of sanatoriums and ski resorts, they are ready to take part in their construction.

There is no doubt that a further structural interaction on the issues uniting Moscow and Tokyo would favour Russia's and Japan's long-term interests. These are, particularly, more intensive political contacts, including closer cooperation in the international arena, the expansion of cultural and educational exchanges, and the increase of mutual economic cooperation. The more especially as Tokyo is interested in cooperation with the Russia that can be a reliable energy supplier for Japan. In addition, the active cooperation to actively promote Russian-Japanese relations can contribute to creating a favorable background for the dialogue on complex political issues too.

Russia is ready to discuss a peace treaty with Japan, based on the UN Charter. Russia also demonstrates readiness to seek a mutually acceptable solution to the situation with the disputed Kuril Islands. In this case, the new leadership of Japan in the name of Shinzo Abe, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party that won the election last December, promises to be more cooperative on the Kuril Islands. Thus, Shinzo Abe expects to resolve the territorial problem between Russia and Japan and sign a peace treaty and intends to visit Russia this year.

However, the words of the Japanese prime minister, known for his radical views on foreign policy, most likely, will remain words. As you know, Shinzo Abe supports the abolition of Clause 9 of the Japanese Constitution, according to which Japan can not have its own army, but can only have "self-defense forces". Arguing that he is able to solve the existing territorial issues, Shinzo Abe hinted that he was ready to speak from a position of strength. All the more so Japan intends for the first time over 10 years to increase its military budget. Thus, in Japan, aggressive rhetoric sounds once again.

Recently, the former Prime minister of Japan, Yoshiro Mori, delegated as the special envoy in February 2013 to Moscow, proposed his plan to enter into a peace treaty with Russia. According to this plan, Tokyo can make "unprecedented" concessions to Moscow, accepting Russian jurisdiction over the island of Iturup, the most populated of the southern Kuril Islands. Meanwhile Japan is planning to take the islands of Shikotan, Kunashir and Habomai. Thus, the "concessions" concern the taking away the islands belonging to Russia. Meanwhile, according to Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese government holds the previous position consisting in the need to define the territorial belonging of all the southern Kuril islands, of course, in favor of Japan, and to conclude a peace treaty with Russia. In this case, he said, Japan is ready to show flexibility on terms of their actual return. In fact, Suga has repeated the policy of the Kuril Islands claimed by Japan several times before.

However, Russia will not agree to territorial concessions to Japan. Moscow believes that Russia's sovereignty over the Kuril Islands is absolutely legal and beyond any doubt. The solution to the problem of a peace treaty, including the issue of border demarcation must be mutually acceptable, approved by the public and the parliaments of the two countries and not to prejudice the sovereignty and national interests of Russia.

According to Yoshihiko Yamada, a Tokai University professor, now is the right time to speed up negotiations with Russia. In his view, Japan should abandon the self-deprecating historical position, but prepare materials with new grounds for discussion and to proceed to negotiations on the disputed territories, which will determine the future of Japanese-Russian relations.