Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

【#192】Abe Failed to Demand Return of 4 Islands from Russia

Hidetake Sawa / 2013.05.08 (Wed)

May 7, 2013


      Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in late April produced results as had been feared. During his first visit to Russia, Prime Minister Abe offered a large-scale economic cooperation proposal as a souvenir, satisfying President Putin. But they procrastinated in resolving a bilateral territorial dispute over the four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido. This amounts to a traditional view since the Soviet Union era that improvements in bilateral relations through economic cooperation would pave the way for resolving the territorial dispute.

A “draw” means Japan’s loss of dignity
      President Putin had prepared a trap. In March last year, the judo expert proposed a “hikiwake” (draw) to resolve the Northern Territories dispute. This proposal prompted Japanese politicians and media organizations to run about in confusion and seriously consider only a partial return of the islands to Japan. The division of the four islands for resolving the dispute would mean that Japan would lose its dignity and clinch a commercial deal for resolving the political issue. The four northern islands are a lump that cannot be divided.
      President Putin has no intent to make any concession beyond the 1956 Japan-Soviet joint communique that envisaged the return of the Habomai island group and Shikotan Island out of the Northern Territories to Japan after the conclusion of a bilateral peace treaty.
      Soon after Japan surrendered in World War II, the Soviet Union took the advantage of the surrender-caused confusion to occupy the four islands. The Allied Powers as the winner of the war called for the principle of “No Territorial Aggrandizement” as specified in the Atlantic Charter and described the war as “a just war.” The principle has become a rule in the postwar international community. Only the Soviet Union among the Allied Powers has aggrandized its territory, occupying the four islands. This means Russia is an invader.
      Japan can claim this fact in the international arena indefinitely. Russia will have to be viewed as an invader as long as it continues to occupy the Northern Territories. Japan will never lose in the debate.

Japan is backing away
      Media reports said when President Putin told Prime Minister Abe at their Kremlin meeting that it was abnormal for the two countries to have no peace treaty even 68 years after the end of the war, Abe consented to the notion. Why didn't he tell Putin that this was because Russia had continued to illegally occupy the Northern Territories and that the peace treaty would be concluded as soon as Russia returns the islands to Japan? If Abe did so, Japan could reverse its overawed diplomatic posture and win global support.
      The Japanese government, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has sealed off the demand for the return of the all four islands and reiterated that it would conclude a peace treaty with Russia after resolving the issue of the attribution of the islands. Why has the government continued to back away? It has also backed away from protesting against contumelious Chinese and South Korean actions. The Japanese people are growing frustrated at the government’s gentlemanlike response.

Hidetake Sawa is a diplomatic analyst.