Japan to pursue better ties with Russia

03/09/2012
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Japan seeks better ties with Russia

View of the islands from the ocean

TOKYO (majirox news) — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda congratulated Vladimir Putin, Russian President-elect, on his election victory on Monday. In their five-minute conversation, Noda also said that he wants to improve his country’s ties with Russia. However, yesterday Noda said he would only sign a peace treaty with Russia if it returns all of the Northern Territories.

The four islands claimed by Japan, called “The Northern Territories” in Japan, are occupied by Russia, and still are a bone of contention between the two countries. Russia and Japan do not have a peace agreement and relations have been strained since the Soviet Army overran the islands at the end of World War II. Because Russia has not returned them, Japan has refused to sign a postwar peace treaty. In theory, the two countries are still at war. But Japanese Prime Minister Noda sees Putin’s presidency as a chance to resolve the dispute.

“With the election of Mr. Putin as president of Russia, we think that there is a window of opportunity for deepening our bilateral relations,” said Norikyuki Shikata, deputy cabinet secretary of Global Communication at the prime minister’s office. “We take note of Mr. Putin’s statement before the election last week, and he showed interest in addressing the issue of the Northern Territories in the context of Japan and Russia relations. We take it as a positive message coming from Russia.”

This impasse over the islands, with a population under 10,000, has continued for a long time. This Japanese administration now sees a possibility of a resolution.

“The Northern Territories issues have been ongoing after the war and if we stick to the principles of resolving the issues based on laws and justice we think we can overcome it,” Shikata said. “Both countries have a lot to gain from it.”

Deserted inlet

However, Kazuo Kobayashi, an award-winning best-selling author on Russia who has interviewed Putin, remains pessimistic about the prospects of Tokyo and Moscow improving their relations. In addition, he says the Japanese will never accept any compromises that Russia might propose.

“Emotionally the Japanese people want back all the territories, all four of the islands, all together,” he said. “But it is not realistic. Russia will never give back that four islands, never, but Japanese people want them back, and that is the point.”

Furthermore, he says that for the issue to be resolved, the Japanese people must change their feelings about the islands off Hokkaido, and he does not think Noda has the political strength or support to accomplish it.

“The Japanese forgot that it was the result of the war and only remember the time when Japanese people lived on the islands,” Kobayashi said. “That’s the problem, and Japanese think, and I think, it was originally a Japanese territory. But it was taken by Russia as the result of the war and to change the result of war is practically impossible everywhere in the world, really, that’s the point.”

Other than the nationalists groups who stage weekly protests against Russia, some Japanese are willing to accept a compromise for the sake of peace and good relations with Russia.

A man, who works for Sony who requested not be identified, said, “In order to have good relations with Russia we must be willing to compromise.”

Whatever the results of a Noda-Putin dialog, the nationalists are going to have a field day with this issue.

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