Tue, August 14, 2012
World > Asia-Pacific > Japan in islands row

Russia-Japan territorial impasse hard to break

2012-07-29 02:36:10 GMT2012-07-29 10:36:10(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

MOSCOW, July 29 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba's visit to Russia, which aims at breaking the territorial impasse with Moscow, made no promising progress in solving the decades-old disputes between the two countries.

Analysts here say Gemba's meetings with top Russian officials show Moscow and Tokyo remain markedly divided on the issue. The deadlock over four disputed islands is hard to break since both sides are unwilling to give in.

Despite this irritating factor which poisons atmosphere in bilateral ties, analysts believe that it will not turn into a hard clot in the blood vessels as both sides are perfectly aware that brawls can change nothing in their relations which they vow to push forward.


During his Saturday meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Sochi, Gemba said it was sad that the islands disputes between the two sides that have lasted for decades still have not been solved.

He also lodged a protest to Lavrov on Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's July 3 visit to one of the four disputed islets Kunashir, called Kunashiri in Japan.

Instead of adopting flawless diplomatic languages, the Russian minister gave his Japanese guest a direct slap in the face, saying that top Russian leaders will continue to visit the Southern Kuril islands despite the ongoing protests from Tokyo.

"My answer to the question as to whether Russian officials will refrain from trips (to the Southern Kuril islands) is: No, they won't. This is just a fact," Lavrov told reporters.

Moscow and Tokyo have been at odds over the four isles (known as the Northern Territories in Japan) since the end of World War II, when the former Soviet Union seized the disputed isles, including Etorofu, Kunashir, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group, with 17,000 residents.

In an interview with Itar-Tass news agency ahead of his visit to Russia, Gemba called on both countries to resolve the dispute "in a calm atmosphere."

However, Vyacheslav Amirov, an expert from the Center for Asia-Pacific Research of Russian Academy of Science, said both sides are unlikely to change their rock-solid positions which have already been confirmed dozens of times on various occasions. Gemba's attempts to make progress might end in vain, Amirov said.


Though the stances of Moscow and Tokyo on the territorial issue remain different, both sides seemed to have softened their tones recently, local experts said.

Gemba told reporters after his talks with Lavrov that the two sides agreed to hold frequent high-level negotiations toward seeking solutions. The talks will be at the level of leaders, foreign ministers and deputy foreign ministers.

During his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin also on Saturday, Gemba said Japan intended to name former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori as a special envoy to help solve the dispute.

Putin said he was ready to meet Mori "at any time," Gemba told reporters after their talks.

Besides diplomatic attempts, Japan also adopted the "soft approach," raising the humanitarian issue of 17,000 former dwellers of the four islets who were forced to leave after the war and are still unable to return home.

During a recent interview with Russian media, Gemba called on the Russian side to let those old folks return to their "native land."

Analysts said Russia became more flexible in dealing with visa-free trans-border travels for those former islands residents.

For example, Russia invited relatives of the former Japanese citizens who stood in the four islets after the Soviet Union's take-over to visit their ancestors' graves.

However, Tokyo demands the Russian border service not to stamp the Japanese passports with entry/exit marks, as it would be a de-facto recognition of the foreign belonging of these islets.

"Of course, Russia cannot accept these demands," Amirov said.


During his talks with Russian officials, Gemba said that a settlement would permanently smooth over the bumps in the Tokyo-Moscow relationship and boost bilateral economic cooperation.

"I am confident that through the settlement of the territorial problem and signing of a peace treaty Russia will cement its relations with Japan, its most reliable partner in the Asia-Pacific region, forever," Gemba said.

Putin on Saturday also urged the two sides to strengthen economic cooperation especially in the auto industry and energy sector.

With changing situation in the Asia-Pacific region and a gloomy economy after the global crisis, Tokyo will adopt more realistic stances on the Japan-Russia relations as a whole and the territorial issue in particular, experts said.

Japan will not stick to the islands issue but focus more on the less sensitive matters of economic ties, where Moscow and Tokyo could easily find common interests, experts said.

According to Amirov, Gemba hinted earlier that Tokyo has been working on ways to reconcile unmovable political demands with practical benefits.

"Russian and Japanese interests in this region often coincide, so both sides only need to turn a blind eye sometimes on the judicial particulars which prevent them to cooperate normally," Amirov said. Enditem


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