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Editorial: “Two island” tactic clearly failed in Northern Territory negotiations

Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov conducted peace negotiations in Moscow. This is their first meeting after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin designated the two foreign ministers as chief negotiators last December.


The results were miserable. Russia’s presumptuous attitude was beyond forbearance.


Prime Minister Abe and Russian President Putin agreed last November to accelerate negotiations based on the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration (1956).


However, the tactic of “first the return of two islands” on the basis of the joint declaration obviously failed.


Japan should return to the principle of demanding the return of the four islands and fundamentally reformulate its Russia policy. 


Accommodation invited Russia’s arrogance


After the meeting, Foreign Minister Lavrov claimed that the Northern Territories “became Russian territory as a result of World War II.” He said that unless Japan acknowledges “Russia’s sovereignty” over the Northern Territories, negotiations will not move forward. His remarks are tantamount to saying the territorial dispute does not exist. Such remarks can never be the starting point of negotiations.


Foreign Minister Lavrov also said the term “Northern Territories” is “unacceptable.”


The four Northern Islands, Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and Habomai, are territories inherent to Japan and are unlawfully occupied by Russia. Such an unreasonable statement ignoring this sole truth is totally unacceptable.


On Aug. 9 ,1945, the former Soviet Union waged war against Japan in violation of the Japan-Soviet Neutrality Pact, which remained in effect at the time.


Even after Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration on Aug. 14, the Soviet Union continued its unilateral invasion of Japan.


During the period from Aug. 28 to Sept. 5, the Soviet Union occupied the four Northern Islands as if stealing things from a building on fire.


Russia insists that it obtained the islands as a “result of World War II” and justifies its occupation of the Northern Territories. The first rationale Russia uses to justify its position is the Yalta Agreement, which was concluded among leaders of the U.S., the UK, and the Soviet Union (February 1945).


The Yalta Agreement was a secret understanding that the Soviet Union would participate in a war against Japan after Germany’s surrender and would seize the Chishima Islands.


But the Yalta Agreement did not, of course, decide the final disposition of the territorial issue. Japan was not a party to this secret understanding; therefore, there is no reason for it to be bound by the agreement. 


In 2005, 60 years after the war, then-U.S. President George Bush, referring to the Yalta Agreement, said, “The agreement was one of the biggest-ever mistakes in history.”


The seizure of the four Northern Islands also violated the Atlantic Charter (1941) and the Cairo Declaration (1943) that called for no territorial aggrandizement.


The reason Russia took such a self-assured stance is that Prime Minister Abe deviated from the principle of the return of the four islands and adopted a policy of focusing on the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration. Russia regarded the deviation as Japan’s shifting to a policy of “the return of two islands.”


The Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration provides that the islands of Shikotan and Habomai will be transferred to Japan after concluding a peace treaty.


However, Japan faced difficult issues at that time, including the return of Japanese citizens who were wrongfully detained in Siberia by the Soviet Union, Japan’s joining the UN, and the resolution of the fishing issue. Tokyo signed the joint declaration after confirming that the two countries would continue territorial negotiations.


The fundamentals of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty


Japan and Russia have held negotiations and produced documents after the 1956 joint declaration. Making light of these is tantamount to accepting Russia’s arguments. We are concerned that negotiations based on the joint declaration will give Russia the opportunity to wrongfully exploit Japan’s weak situation. We can’t help but feel our fear has proven to be true.


We should also not overlook the fact that Foreign Minister Lavrov commented on Japan’s security.


He said that the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration is a document signed before Japan and the U.S. concluded the new security treaty (1960). His comment apparently implied that as long as the Japan-U.S. alliance remains effective, the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration is ineffective.


Needless to say, the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty is the foundation of Japan’s security. Negotiations with Russia should never shake the alliance.


Some senior Japanese officials expected that concluding a peace treaty might function as a deterrent to China’s extraordinary expansion.


Foreign Minister Lavrov dismissed those remarks of Japanese officials as “outrageous.” This reminded us of the reality that for Russia, China is an incomparably more important neighbor than Japan.


It is difficult to understand why Japan remains silent. During a press conference last December, Foreign Minister Kono ignored a reporter’s questions about the Northern Territories, which invited criticism. After the latest foreign ministerial meeting, there was no joint press conference. Russia says this was because “Japan refused to hold one.”


It is reasonable for Japan to resolutely express its stance based on laws and justice. We want the Abe administration to patiently negotiate with Russia and perform his responsibility to give a full explanation to the nation.

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