No solution visible for KuriI Islands dispute

wikipedia map
The Kuril Islands with Russian names. Borders of Shimoda Treaty (1855) and Treaty of St. Petersburg (1875) shown in red. Since 1945 all islands northeast of Hokkaido have been administered by Russia. (Map Wikipedia)

By Pak Ye Gyong

If there is a striking point which characterizes the relations between Russia and Japan, then it will be the issue of the southern Kuril Islands.

Russian Prime Minister has recently visited Iturup in the southern Kuril Islands. In protesting to this, Japan's Foreign Minister Kono said the visit hurt the feelings of the Japanese people so that it was an extremely regrettable thing.

A press aide for Russian prime minister countered that Russian Prime Minister could visit Russian territories including the southern Kuril Islands at any time .

As for the issue of the southern Kuril islands, Japan had counted on the Russia-Japan summit held in the period of the G20 summit in June. But it was vain. Russia did not respond to Japan's demand that Russia at least should transfer two of four southern Kuril Islands to Japan.

There were several consultations at the foreign ministry's vice-ministerial level or directorial level between both  countries before the summit. However, they could not find any compromise proposal until just before the summit. An official of the Japanese foreign ministry dully said that there seemed to be a part which both countries could not yield to each other.

Last September when he met with Japanese top leader, Russian President Putin offered him to conclude a peace treaty without preconditions by the year-end. It was contrary to Japan's stand. Japan's insistence was to solve the territorial issues first and conclude a peace treaty next.

President Putin said, in a press conference last November, although the 1956 USSR-Japan Joint Declaration wrote that USSR was willing to hand over two islands to Japan, it did not say about the condition on which USSR would hand back the islands to Japan. He also said that the document did not have any saying about the country's sovereignty to which the returned islands will belong. It was a clear manifestion of Putin's posture unwilling to make any easy concession regarding the issue of sovereignty over the two islands.

At present the Russian government is pouring efforts to inspire pride to the people as the citizen of the victorious nation in the war. It would be almost impossible for Russia with this stance to easily hand over the southern Kuril islands, symbol of victory in WW II, to Japan.

Russian Prime Minister too made it clear during the recent visit to Iturup that the southern Kuril islands were Russia's land.

More than 70% of people in Russia oppose handing the southern Kuril islands back to Japan.

Experts say Russia's  uncompromising moves in relation to the issue of the southern Kuril islands is owing to the concern that if the islands were transferred to Japan, US military bases might be deployed here under the US-Japan Security Treaty.

The US-Japan Security Treaty stipulates that for the security of Japan, the US has the right to deploy its armed forces in and around Japan. If the southern Kuril islands become the territory of Japan, nobody cannot assure that US military bases will not be deployed here.

Russia is deeply concerned about the US-Japan Security Treaty as it witnessed the Japanese government pressing ahead with relocation of US military base in Okinawa despite strong opposition from the people.

Russia has also recently said that the concluding of the peace treaty is closely related to the issue of US-Japan military cooperation. Russia is showing strong vigilance in Japan's move to purchase a ground-based interceptor missile system called "Aegis Ashore" from the US.

Japan has been unable to offer an alternative to Russia's strong stand.

(This is a full translation. Readers can find the original text in Rodong Sinmun, August 16, 2019.)