Asahi took up yesterday’ interpellation at the Lower House Budget Committee, during which Prime Minister Abe was grilled by lawmakers on his approach to the territorial dispute with Russia. The daily claimed that the premier was apparently careful not to refer to “four islands” in what was a clear departure from the decades-long policy of seeking the return of all islands in one fell swoop in favor of seeking the return of the two smaller ones first. According to the daily, Abe also avoided referring to the “illegal occupation” of the islands perhaps so as not to displease Moscow, which insists that the Soviet Union took control of them legally as a result of its victory in WWII.
Other papers also reported that the prime minister vowed at the same parliamentary session to resolve the territorial dispute before he steps down in 2021. “President Putin and I share a strong desire to put a definitive end to the territorial row without passing it down to the next generation,” said Abe, who also explained that he is careful about the language he uses on the territorial dispute because talks with Moscow have run into difficulties in the past on account of discussions in the Japanese parliament. The prime minister reportedly underscored the importance of dealing with the matter flexibly by saying: “Making Japan’s case alone would be insufficient [to settle the dispute]. No progress has been made in the past 70 years…. There are many Russians who do not want peace negotiations with Japan to move forward.”
Meanwhile, Mainichi wrote that Japan is in caught in a dilemma between the U.S. and Russia with regard to Moscow’s call for assurances that no U.S. bases will be established on the Northern Territories if they revert to Japan. As the two bigger islands of Kunashiri and Etorofu are extremely critical to Russia’s security since they are situated at the entrance to the Sea of Okhotsk where Russia’s nuclear submarines are based, Tokyo is reportedly afraid that the Russian government will seek such assurances in writing, which Washington would likely to reject on the grounds that it would constrain U.S. military operations. Because the U.S. has stated in response to Japan’s prodding that the Senkaku Islands fall under the scope of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, the daily speculated that if Tokyo chooses not to seek a similar U.S. commitment when it comes to the Northern Territories in response to Russia’s request, China may also call for the Senkakus to be treated in the same way.