Japan Wants to Resolve Kuril Islands Problem
Thursday, February 8, 2007 Posted: 12:46 PM JST
(by Linda van Engelenburg) - Wednesday Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to regain the four of southern Kuril Islands from Russia, saying it was time to end the bickering between Tokyo and Moscow over the fishing grounds.
At an annual conference Prime Minister Abe was speaking of the importance to resolve the sovereignty dispute between Japan and Russia. Russia said it was prepared to look for mutually acceptable solutions to the problem, but insisted that its control of the islands was not up for negotiation.
Prime Minister Abe told reporters on the conference day there is no change in Tokyo's position that the issue must be resolved before a treaty can be signed. During an interview on Channel One television, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said the same day, "We are aware of the Japanese prime minister's statements. We have repeatedly outlined our position, which remains unchanged. We proceed from the principle of the inviolability of World War Two's results."
The Kuril Islands, surrounded by prime fishing waters, are part of a chain running from Japan's northern main island of Hokkaido to Russia's eastern Kamchatka Peninsula. Moscow seized the four island chain, called the Southern Kurils by Russia and the Northern Territories by Japan, from Tokyo in the closing days of World War II. Thousands of Japanese who lived there were forced out. Now about 17,000, nearly all Russians, are living on the islands.
In the Treaty of San Francisco signed by Japan and the Allied Powers in 1951 which formally ended World War II, Japan renounced its rights to the Kuril Islands and Sakhalin. However, the four Southern Kurils were not specifically mentioned in the treaty, which was not signed by the Soviet Union. Thus, technically Japan and Russia are still at war.
Last year, Russia offered to return to Japan the Shikotan and Habomai Islands on the condition that Tokyo renounce its claims to the two larger islands, Uruppu and Kunashiri.
Feb 7 was Japan's Northern Territory Day, marking the anniversary of a 1855 Japan-Russia friendship treaty that gave Japan possession of the islands. The event, attended by 1,500 people, including government officials, civic groups and ordinary citizens, also attracted dozens of ultra-right activists who shouted their territorial demands on speaker-loaded trucks outside the venue.
Abe's government has campaigned for more assertiveness in Japan's foreign affairs and international military role. As part of the goal, the government is also pushing for education reforms to foster patriotism.
Northern Territories Minister Sanae Takaichi, also at the rally, urged schools to place more emphasis on the issue to promote "accurate" understanding of the issue through education.
In recent months, there have been frequent seizures of Japanese boats; Russian authorities have stepped up patrols in and around the islands, escalating tensions.
Because it has proved a major obstacle to closer bilateral cooperation in areas such as energy, Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in November 2006 to expand economic and political exchanges and end differences over the islands.
* * *