Abe seeks solution to island row with Russia

02/08/2013
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The Soviet Union occupied several disputed islands off Hokkaido in 1945, and this resulted in Japan and the USSR – now Japan and Russia – feeling unable to sign a peace treaty to end World War II. The Northern Territories, as they are known in Japan and Kuril Islands in Russia, have been a continued bone of contention for nearly 70 years. Japan’s new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is attempting to address the issue.

TOKYO (majirox news) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is attempting to find a solution to the nearly 70-year-old issue of four Russian-occupied Islands off northern Japan. Abe spoke to a government-backed rally of approximately 2,000 former islanders and their descendants in Tokyo.

“There is no change in my resolve to do everything I can toward sealing a peace treaty with Russia after resolving the issue of the Northern Territories,” Abe said. “I want to find a mutually acceptable solution to our long territorial dispute with Russia.”

The dispute has prevented Japan and Russia from signing a peace treaty for more than 67 years after the war. They used to be Japanese territory, but Soviet forces occupied them following Japan’s 1945 surrender which ended World War Two.

“In my telephone conversations with Russian President Putin, I said that I would make efforts to find a mutually acceptable solution so we can find a lasting answer to this issue of the Northern Territories,” Abe said.

Abe plans to send former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori to Russia later this month for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the territorial dispute. Mori has been a long-time friend of Putin and they share a passion for judo.

More than a few inhospitable sub-Arctic islands are at stake. Fishing rights and possible submarine mineral deposits also come into play. In addition, Japan is in a dispute with China, Taiwan and Korea over islands at the other end of the archipelago, and cannot afford too many enemies. Abe may be seeking to reach a settlement with Russia to bolster his international position vis-à-vis China. Both sides would also gain from a settlement — chiefly in the area of energy sources and supplies.

However, Japanese right-wing nationalist groups were protesting Feb.7 in Tokyo against any compromise. “Give the islands back to us,” the demonstrators shouted. But many Japanese are against these tactics.

A business women in Tokyo said, “I disagree with this demonstration by the right wingers. Our two country’s governments should just talk to each other. We don’t need this screaming in the center of the city. It’s embarrassing to us as Japanese.”

In the past, compromise solutions, where the islands would be divided between the two countries, have been rejected. However, now may be the time that both sides are ready to join hands over the table and seek the middle ground.

If Abe can indeed produce a fix to this long-standing problem, he will deserve applause for his efforts. Both countries stand to gain from a resolution of this issue, and a peaceful solution in this area may also serve as a model for Japan’s other territorial disputes.

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