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Ex-Japanese diplomat calls for rebuilding foundation for negotiations on Northern Territories

With a great deal of attention being paid to progress in negotiations over the Northern Territories, a former Japanese experienced diplomat is fretting about recent developments in Japan-Russia negotiations. Sumio Edamura, who took part in the negotiations as Japanese ambassador to Russia under the governments led by Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin around the times of the collapse of the Soviet Union, claims that Russia has manipulated intelligence and changed the foundation for negotiations over the reversion of the four islands.


Q: What is your overview of the past negotiations on the Northern Territories?


Edamura: In diplomatic negotiations, a framework becomes important. First of all, Japan and Russia must build a common framework for negotiations. In this respect, the Tokyo Declaration of 1993, which set forth a framework for the resolution of the territorial dispute, was an important step forward. Without a framework, the chances of successful negotiations are slim. A foundation for negotiations budded through the Tokyo Declaration. Back then, I thought that we have managed to come this far.


Q: You mentioned that “A foundation for negotiations budded.” What do you mean by that?  


Edamura: Negotiations must have been substantiated based on the three principles laid out in the Tokyo Declaration, which are “on the basis of historical and legal facts and based on the documents produced with the two countries’ agreement as well as on the principles of law and justice.”


Q: In reality, [the negotiations] did not go smoothly.


Edamura: Since 2001, the significance of the Tokyo Declaration has been on the decline. Even in Japan, some people argue that the 1956 Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration (that stipulates the handover of the two islands after the conclusion of a peace treaty) should underlie negotiations.


Q: Why is that?


Edamura: There was an intelligence manipulation, which tried to replace the Tokyo Declaration with the 1956 Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration as a basis for negotiations. Arguments include that the joint declaration is the most authoritative document and the only legal document because it was ratified. The rumor that Putin is the first [Russian president] to acknowledge the joint declaration is also part [of the intelligence manipulation]. Attempts were also made to fault Japan for the deterioration of its ties with Russia.


Q: Can you give some concrete examples?


Edamura: Those who in the past worked diligently to negotiate the conclusion of a peace treaty in Russia could have been blackmailed or pressured.  Now these people did an about-face and are now at the vanguard of intelligence manipulation. Recently, it went rife that Japan rejected a flexible, informal proposal that Russia presented in March 1992. Even if it was informal, there is no fact that Japan turned down Russia’s proposal. Perhaps a document fabricated by an intelligence agency was distributed to abort Yeltsin’s scheduled visit to Japan in 1992. They claimed that Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe rejected Russia’s concession proposal when he visited Russia prior to [Yeltsin’s visit to Japan]. That was completely groundless.


Q: Putin says that the joint declaration does not state the sovereignty of the two islands to be handed over.


Edamura: What he has in mind is to use the joint declaration as a basis for negotiations. In an interview conducted before the summit talks in Irkutsk in 2001, Putin also pointed out that “conditions for the handover were not written,” which suggests that he may have thought about this idea from the beginning. The handover means the transfer of sovereignty. That is the common sense. So we had never expected there would be conditions for that.


Q: The approach that the Yeltsin administration took after the collapse of the Soviet Union was different from that of the Putin administration.  


Edamura: Japan and Russia had been looking at the same direction up until a certain period of time. Moscow also sought to join the ranks of industrialized democracies that share the same values. These developments were in sync with the direction toward concluding a peace treaty. Russia was enthusiastic about resolving the Northern Territories issue with Japan. But now change is taking place underneath.  


Q: Yeltsin and Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto produced results to some degree by holding “no-tie” talks. If Abe and Putin can discuss in a relaxing atmosphere, progress is expected to be made in some form.


Edamura: In diplomatic negotiations over national interests, you cannot see things emotionally. Yeltsin was whimsical. Though he said that he would conclude a peace treaty by 2000, it is questionable how serious he was. I hope that the summit talks to be held in Nagato will be carried out based on the relationship of trust between the two leaders and that things will move forward even by one or two steps to rebuild a foundation for negotiations. (Slightly abridged)

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