Northern Territories

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 12010/10/02
EDITORIAL: Northern Territories

As if to take advantage of Japan's confrontation with China over sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said he intends to visit the Northern Territories soon.

Unlike the situation in the Senkaku Islands dispute, Tokyo and Moscow agreed in the 1993 Tokyo Declaration and other official documents to aim at settling the Northern Territories issue through negotiation. This is why successive Russian leaders have avoided making a visit.

Russia has recently been emphasizing its claim that, as a result of World War II, ownership of the Northern Territories was transferred to the Soviet Union. The latest move is apparently aimed at highlighting Russia's effective control over the islands and undermining the position of Japan, which regards them as an integral part of the country. But such high-handed methods will render negotiations futile.

It was natural for Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara to convey Japan's apprehension to the Russian side, saying the visit could seriously undermine Japan-Russia relations. Japan should continue to strongly urge Russia to avoid the visit.

The Russian side has recently moved toward a more hard-line approach to territorial problems. First, it conducted a military exercise this summer with 1,500 troops on Etorofu Island, which is part of the Northern Territories.

It has also designated Sept. 2, the date on which Japan signed the instrument of surrender to the Allied Forces in 1945, the memorial day of the end of World War II. Most recently, Medvedev issued a joint statement with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, emphasizing their commitment to territorial integrity during a visit to China earlier this week.

In effect, the two countries were applying pressure on Japan by confirming the legitimacy of their respective claims to the Senkaku Islands and the Northern Territories.

Russia may have become impatient with Japan, seeing that Tokyo's stance on the territorial problem had remained unchanged after the change of government from the Liberal Democratic Party to the Democratic Party of Japan. But we do not believe these moves will serve Russia's long-term interests.

The Russian economy, which relies heavily on oil, natural gas and other resources, suffered a serious blow in the global financial crisis that hit two years ago. For this reason, the Russian administration is pursuing a policy of building good relations with Europe, the United States and Japan, with the aim of modernizing its economy by attracting technology and investment from these countries.

Russia is also trying to strengthen cooperation with countries in the Asia-Pacific region to support development in Siberia and the Far East, which are lagging behind other regions. That is why it plans to take part in the East Asia Summit and will host the summit meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in 2012 in Vladivostok in the Russian Far East.

In these circumstances, the Russian side should think hard about how much it could lose if it continues to be at loggerheads with Japan over territorial claims, at a time when it should instead be cooperating with Japan in the region.

The DPJ administration also faces some urgent decisions.

Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama proposed the concept of an East Asian community. But he stepped down without showing how to position Japan-Russia relations within that framework. Prime Minister Naoto Kan has met with Medvedev only briefly on one occasion. Meanwhile, Chinese and Russian leaders have met as often as five times since the beginning of this year.

Japan needs to rebuild its East Asia policy and must address how it intends to deal with Russia.

by kiyoshimat | 2010-10-03 06:36 | 英字新聞

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