Japan – Russia Agree on Economic Cooperation in Russian-Occupied Japanese Territories
Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : Japan and Russia agreed on Friday to start talks on joint economic activities on the Russian-occupied Japanese Northern Territories or South Kuril Islands as Moscow called the Japanese territory it annexed after the end of World War II. Moscow has consistently made a peace treaty with Japan dependent on Japan’s surrender of internationally guaranteed rights.
Announcements about plans to initiate talks on joint economic development came during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s long-expected visit to Japan. Disputes about Japan’s Northern Territories, or the South Kuril Islands as Moscow designates them have been one of the major obstacles with regard to reaching a peace agreement between Japan and the USSR and now Russia. The territories include the islands of Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan as well as the Habomai archipelago.
In a joint statement Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that Japan and Russia had reached the mutual understanding that starting talks on the joint economic activities by Japan and Russia…could be an important step toward signing the peace treaty, hindered by the decades-old row over the territories.
The statement also underpinned that japan and Russia agree that initiating talks on the development of joint economic activities has no effect on either country’s position regarding a peace treaty. The joint statement does not refer to the agreement being linked to the settlement of sovereignty issues pertaining the islands of Kunashir, Iturup, Shitokan, the Habomai archipelago and adjacent maritime territory either.
In January 2016 Russia underpinned its de-facto annexation plans by inviting foreign investors and by telling Tokyo that it “better act swiftly” if it wants to benefit from Russia’s development plans for the region. The statement has widely been regarded as blackmail. Moscow did not only ignore Tokyo’s concerns about Russia’s regional development plans and te establishment of permanent government structures in the disputed, Russian-occupied Japanese territories.
In August 2015 the otherwise skillful Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov displayed what was widely perceived as an unusual display of arrogance and victor’s justice when he commented on the Japanese government’s objections about Russia’s “social and cultural development” of the occupied territories, saying:
“Unacceptable comments from Japan on the trips by Russian government officials to the Southern Kuril Islands have come again recently. … We would like to recall we do not plan taking account of the Japanese government members’ opinions as we arrange the itineraries for members of the government. These trips, including the one that government officials make as part of a federal program for social and economic development of the Kuril Islands (the Sakhalin region), will continue. … We are compelled to state that the Japanese side is again demonstrating overtly its negligence of the commonly recognized results of World War II as it multiplies publicly its ungrounded claims to the Southern Kuril Islands. … Such actions look particularly deplorable on the background of the forthcoming 70th anniversary since the end of World War II.”
Tokyo now stressed that joint economic activities on the isles could be undertaken providing they were conducted in a way that did not recognize Russian sovereignty over Northern Territories. At the joint press conference after their fourth meeting this year, Abe and Putin noted that difficulties remain in resolving the dispute. “The lack of a Japan-Russia peace treaty is a negative legacy of the past,” but the island row cannot be solved soon, Putin said, adding the two countries should continue making efforts to find a solution. Ironically, Russian State media present the situation as if “Russia invites Japanese businesses”, while omitting the status of Japan’s northern territories according to international law.
Japan underpinned that Etorofu, Iturup, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai archipelago are an integral part of its territory and they were illegally seized by the Soviet Union after Japan’s surrender in World War II in August 1945. Russia maintains the Soviet Union took the islands legitimately as a prize of war. Moreover, as the above mentioned statement by Lavrov shows, Russia considers Japan’s concerns as “unacceptable” and insists that Japan “recognize historic facts”.
Russia’s view of history is not only inconsistent with the UN Charter and international law outlaws the acquisition of territories by war or military force. Russia stands also accused of abusing its privilege as self-anointed UN Security Council member with veto right. The UN Security Council has, among others failed to comply with the UN General Assembly decision to remove the designation of Japan and Germany as enemy states to the UN. Moreover, Russia uses this position to force terms on Japan that it would otherwise not be forced to accept to get a peace treaty with Russia.
That situation has, despite all diplomatic smiles for the press not changed during Putin’s visit to Japan. Shinzo Abe’s and Vladimir Putin’s joint statement merely reflected that Japan had succeeded to be granted a cut of Russia’s economic development of the Japanese territory. The statement said all four islands would be the focus of joint economic activities in the fishing, tourism, medical and environmental fields. A Japanese government source said Friday that Japan’s contribution to the economic cooperation plan will be worth a total of 300 billion yen ($2.54 billion), including participation by the private sector.
In May 2016, during a visit to the Russian Black Sea Resort Sochi, Abe proposed an eight point cooperation plan that includes cooperation in the energy sector, transfer of cutting-edge Japanese technologies, expansion of human exchanges, and the industrialization of the Russian Far East, a region that Putin is eager to develop. The parties have reached an agreement for Japanese companies to participate in the development of natural gas fields on Russia’s Gydan Peninsula, which faces the Arctic Ocean; also a sector Russia is eager to develop.
Economic cooperation is being promoted despite concern in Japan that engaging in joint projects would not necessarily lead to progress in resolving the dispute over the islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia. Japanese companies have also voiced concern about the business environment in Russia, citing “an opaque legal system and corruption”.
It is noteworthy that the USSR, subsequent to the annexation of Japan’s northern territories displaced a substantial segment of the population in what can only be described as ethnic cleansing. One of Tokyo’s worries is that Moscow aims at using a Crimea-like model for Japan’s northern territories. That is, a referendum in the occupied territories and the subsequent “accession” of the territories into the Russian Federation, notwithstanding the fact that Russia has significantly changed the demographics of the region already.
CH/L – nsnbc 16.12.2016