All national papers except Sankei highlighted Prime Minister Kishida’s comment at the Diet yesterday that the Northern Territories are “illegally occupied” by Russia. This was the first time for a prime minister to use this expression at the parliament since 2009. When PM Aso used it at the time, Moscow reacted strongly by saying Tokyo had “attempted to raise doubts about Russia’s sovereignty.” Former PM Abe later described the Russian occupation of the contested islands as “without legal ground” in a veiled attempt to avoid displeasing Moscow in territorial talks, and PM Kishida had continued to use this language until recently. Kishida apparently decided to stop using the muted wording following the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
However, the premier also noted that Tokyo does not intend to repeal Japan’s bilateral nuclear technology transfer pact with Moscow since it is designed to ensure Russia’s peaceful use of nuclear technology. Kishida also rebuffed an opposition call for canceling a 2.2-billion-yen ($18.5 million) allocation in the FY2022 budget for promoting economic cooperation with Russia on the grounds that it is a “humanitarian support” initiative that finances joint research on pediatric cancer and geriatrics.