Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Bilateral Relations: Japan, Russia Squabble Over Land

Kind permission of

Japan and Russia have long been at odds over four islands known as the Northern Territories. Is a compromise in the works?

Multisource political news, world news, and entertainment news analysis by


A sticking point in Japanese-Russian relations is getting stickier. The two nations have long been at odds over four islands known as the Northern Territories.

Soviet troops invaded the Kuril Islands during World War II. The Japanese government released this video as part of an information campaign to promote its efforts to return the disputed islands to Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan recently led a rally to demand Russia return the “occupied” land.

Naoto Kan (Japan’s Prime Minister): ”Japan’s government will continue negotiations based on past bilateral agreements and work to settle the dispute and sign a peace treaty with Russia.” (NHK)

Far-right activists in Japan demonstrated their rage during a rally by dragging a torn Russian flag in front of the Russian Embassy in Tokyo. Police say someone mailed a package containing a bullet to the embassy.

Russia is fuming. RT has the official response from the Russian Foreign Minister.

SERVEY LAVROV (Russian Foreign Minister): “Expressions used by the Japanese officials are far from diplomatic and are in great contrast with the polite and friendly tone of the meeting between President Medvedev and Prime Minister Naoto Kan in Yokohama last autumn. ... We are still willing to closely cooperate with our Japanese partners, in carrying out specific projects in those regions of Russia.”

The Deputy Director of the Far East Institute points out the protests take place annually in Japan - on the national holiday of “Northern Territories Day” -- but says this year’s took the dispute to a new level.

“The day the Northern Territories in Japan always been controversial. But today's act before the Russian embassy with the Russian flag is the height of cynicism. And it is clear that indirectly and perhaps even directly the official Japanese government is behind the events, they are well-informed, and there is even evidence that the government is going to increase budget allocations for radical extremist Japanese organizations which are inflaming anti-Russian hysteria.” (Article: The Voice of Russia)

But the Economist reports, there isn’t even a consensus among Japanese officials about how to reclaim the islands.

“...the most recently toppled of Japan’s many former prime ministers and a native of nearby Hokkaido, urges an incremental approach, aimed at the initial retrieval of only two of the four disputed islands. ... the foreign minister, scoffs at this. He is determined to continue pressing for the return of all four islands.”

And he will have the opportunity to do so. The foreign minister is scheduled to visit Moscow and the land dispute is likely to be at the top of his agenda. Official Russian news agency ITAR-TASS quotes him at a press conference:

“There is the groundwork for more active development of relations between Russia and Japan that are of great importance. Our relations will forge ahead, if the territorial issue is resolved and a peace treaty is signed.”