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Japanese Government Strongly Protests Visit to Northern Territories by Russian President [ 2010.11.20 ]

[NewsJapan.net] In the afternoon of November 1 Minister for Foreign Affairs Seiji Maehara summoned Russian Ambassador to Japan Mikhail Bely and lodged a protest against Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Kunashiri Island in the Northern Territories on the same day. President Medvedev is the first Russian or Soviet leader to visit the Northern Territories since they were occupied by the Soviet Union in 1945.

Protest by Japanese Government

The Northern Territories---Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and the Habomai islands---were occupied by the Soviet Union after Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration and surrendered in August 1945. Japan demands the return of the islands as an integral part of Japanese territory, but Russia continues its illegal occupation. In 1956 Japan and the Soviet Union concluded the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration, a legally binding treaty, which stipulated the termination of the state of war between the two nations and the resumption of diplomatic relations. The declaration stated that Japan and the Soviet Union will continue to negotiate a peace treaty after re-establishing normal diplomatic relations. In addition, the Soviet Union is to hand over the Habomai and Shikotan islands to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty. The 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration remains legally valid to this day.

When Russian President Boris Yeltsin visited Japan in October 1993, the leaders of the two countries signed the Tokyo Declaration, which defined the dispute of Northern Territories as an issue of attribution of the four islands, and set forth clear guidelines for negotiations whereby the Northern Territorial issue would be solved on the basis of historical and legal facts, documents compiled with the agreement of the two countries, and the principles of law and justice. Since then, the policy stipulated in the Tokyo Declaration to solve the problem of the attribution of the Northern Territories and conclude a peace treaty has been repeatedly confirmed between Japan and Russia.

On the occasion of his meeting with then Prime Minister Taro Aso in Peru in November 2008, President Medvedev said that “I do not intend to leave the solution of the problem to the next generation.” In another round of bilateral summit talks held in Sakhalin in February 2009, the two leaders agreed to aim for a solution of the territorial issue through a “new, original, and nonstandard approach.”

In late September of this year, however, on the occasion of a visit to the Russian Far East, President Medvedev made clear his intention to visit the Northern Territories, saying that “the Kuriles” are “crucial parts of our country” and that “I will definitely visit there in the near future.”

In response, at the end of September Foreign Minister Maehara delivered a message to Russian Ambassador Bely to the effect that “if the top leader of your country visits the Northern Territories, I am concerned that it will stir up an extremely strong reaction among the Japanese people and generate an extremely serious obstacle to the development of Japan-Russia relations.”

In response to President Medvedev’s visit to Kunashiri Island, Foreign Minister Maehara summoned Ambassador Bely and, among other things, told him that (1) President Medvedev’s visit to Kunashiri Island contradicts Japan’s basic position and neglects the feelings of the Japanese people; it is extremely regrettable and Japan lodges a protest, and (2) President Medvedev’s visit to Kunashiri Island despite Japan’s expression of concern raises doubt about the Russian government’s stated intention to enhance its relationship with Japan.

Furthermore, in a press conference on November 2, Foreign Minister Maehara announced that he had ordered Japanese Ambassador to Russia Masaharu Kono to temporarily return to Japan. According to the Yomiuri Shimbun (November 3), Foreign Minister Maehara said, “I have asked him to temporarily return so that I can hear from him about the situation. Russia is an important country. There is no change whatsoever in our policy of solving the territorial problem, concluding a peace treaty, and strengthening economic cooperation between Japan and Russia.” Ambassador Kono temporarily returned to Japan on November 3.

Major Newspaper Commentaries

On November 2 Japan’s major newspapers all carried editorials on President Medvedev’s visit to the Northern Territories in which they were critical of the Russian side.

The Yomiuri editorial stated, “Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Kunashiri Island in the Northern Territories on Monday, ignoring Japan’s sovereignty. It was quite natural that Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara summoned the Russian ambassador immediately to protest the visit.” It continued with the request, “The Russian president is scheduled to visit Japan in the middle of this month to attend the summit meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Yokohama. If Japan-Russia summit talks are held on the sidelines, [Prime Minister Naoto] Kan must resolutely protest Medvedev’s provocative behavior. He should also warn the Russian president that economic relations between the two countries will be negatively affected if Moscow continues to take such a hard-line stance.”

The Asahi Shimbun editorial insisted, “Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday visited Kunashiri Island, ignoring the Japanese government’s warning that such a trip would seriously hurt the bilateral relationship. We believe that it has.” It went on, “Tokyo and Moscow have repeatedly agreed to seek a negotiated settlement [to the Northern Territories issue]. Yet, Moscow unilaterally set Medvedev’s trip schedule. . . . We must say Moscow’s highhandedness could undo any progress made so far in bilateral talks.” Regarding the latest development, the Asahi commented, “With the next presidential election coming up in 2012, perhaps Medvedev wanted to project an image of a strong leader. Another possibility is that Moscow, which is now reinforcing its cooperation with China and is also well aware of Tokyo’s shaky diplomacy with Beijing over the Senkaku Islands dispute, decided to see how Tokyo would react.”

The Mainichi Shimbun editorial sent a warning to Russia, saying, “. . . as Medvedev blatantly ignored Japanese warnings against the visit, Japan must not recognize his trip as legitimate. . . . ‘Russia has wounded the feelings of the Japanese people. This is most regrettable,’ Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara told the Russian ambassador to Japan, and his strong protest was completely natural. . . . His [Russian President Medvedev’s] visit to Kunashiri Island, however, has not just pushed that ‘constructive settlement’ further away, it has made it impossible to avoid a retreat from the bilateral economic cooperation that has gone hand-in-hand with negotiations over the Northern Territories dispute. Russia, too, must understand the losses it faces by going ahead with the president’s trip.”

The Nikkei editorial observed, “There is no doubt that President Medvedev’s aim in going to the area himself was to assert Russia’s effective control over the Northern Territories. . . . Japan and Russia surely shared the recognition that the problem of sovereignty is unresolved. But despite this understanding, the president himself went to the area. The visit has rubbed Japanese sentiment the wrong way and undoubtedly will further worsen feelings toward Russia. Russia should be aware that primary responsibility lies in the president’s thoughtless behavior.”

The Sankei Shimbun editorial suggested, “It is an outrageous and totally unacceptable act aimed at consolidating Russia’s illegal occupation of the Northern Territories, which are an integral part of Japanese territory. . . . The government should notify Moscow that it will reconsider the invitation to Russia to attend the APEC summit meeting.” It continued, “If Medvedev attends the APEC summit, the government should boldly state its case on the Northern Territories issue to the forum of leaders. If the government cannot speak frankly and show the world that Russia is wrong, it will only be leaving trouble for the future.”

An article in the Mainichi (November 2) touched on the history of diplomacy between Japan and Russia: “In 1854 the Russian warship Diana, which was assisting Japanese people after a large tsunami hit Shimoda, was shipwrecked while heading for the village of Heda. The villagers on land responded by distributing food to the nearly 500 crew members and offered the shelter. Japanese carpenters even set about building a Western-style sailing ship so that the crew members could return home. In gratitude, the Russians named this vessel the Heda. The Diana had been carrying the delegation of Admiral Evfimii Vasilevich Putiatin, which had been negotiating the conclusion of a commerce treaty with the hogunate in Shimoda. The outcome of these negotiations between the two countries was the Russo-Japanese Treaty of Amity, which stipulated that the frontier between Japan and Russia ran between the islands of Etorofu and Uruppu. This episode shows that the diplomacy between Japan and Russia in modern times was born of mutual assistance and friendship between the people of the two countries.” The article concluded, “The self-centered behavior on the territorial issue, which betrays this initial spirit of Japanese-Russian diplomacy, can only be described as unfortunate.”

< NewsJapan is an alternative media that Japan government recognized non-profit organization, Answer Asia founded in 2005. We provide Quality "fact-checked" news and specialized public relations and marketing consulting to various Japan related communities in Asia. >


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