露首相択捉訪問 領土交渉に背向ける軽挙妄動

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Through rash actions, Russia turning its back on territorial talks with Japan
露首相択捉訪問 領土交渉に背向ける軽挙妄動

It is an action that will greatly set back the momentum toward improving bilateral ties between Japan and Russia and settling territorial disputes. By no means can we tolerate this.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Etorofu Island in the northern territories on Saturday.

After inspecting the status of the development of harbor and airport facilities on the island, he announced, at a political forum for local youths, a policy of designating the islands of Etorofu and Kunashiri as “advanced development territories.”

The visit is apparently aimed at demonstrating that Russia’s effective control of the northern territories is entrenched, as this month marks the 70th year since the then Soviet Union occupied the islands.

By ignoring Japan’s request to cancel the visit, Medvedev’s arrival on the island constitutes a serious infringement of sovereignty.

It was reasonable that Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told Russian Ambassador to Japan Evgeny Afanasiev on Saturday, “The visit hurt the feelings of the Japanese people and was extremely regrettable.”

Lately, Russia’s hard-line stance on Japan has been intolerable. At the end of June, Russia decided to impose a ban, starting next year, on drift-net fishing for salmon and trout within Russia’s exclusive economic zone, where Japanese fishing vessels also operate. There are fears the Japanese fishing industry will be affected.

Since July, the Russian health minister and the deputy prime minister have successively visited the northern territories. Russia has also announced a “development program,” injecting about ¥120 billion over 10 years for the development of social infrastructure for the whole of the Kuril Islands.

Moscow makes threats

We can discern Russia’s intention of shaking the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and causing disarray in Japan’s cooperation with the United States and European countries, which are imposing sanctions on Russia over the Ukrainian crisis.

Japan has attached importance to dialogue with Russia to hold in check China’s military rise and to prevent China from forming a united front with Russia against Japan.

By using the personal relationship between Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Japan is seeking a possible visit to Japan by Putin sometime this year to advance bilateral negotiations over territorial issues. We can understand Abe’s strategic course of action.

But Russia’s recent moves vividly demonstrate that the Putin administration has no intention of earnestly dealing with the territorial issues with Japan.

Even if Putin’s visit to Japan is realized, it is hard to expect any substantial dialogue between Abe and Putin, nor any tangible results.

Kishida said he would freeze for the time being the coordination for his planned visit to Russia, in preparation for Putin’s visit to Japan. Japan’s strategy is coming to an impasse.

Behind Russia’s recent moves is the reality that Putin is utilizing as a unifying force for his administration his adoption of hostile views, particularly toward the United States, and inflaming patriotism in the Russian people.

Putin has also referred to the possibility of using nuclear weapons, having repeatedly made threatening remarks to the United States and European countries.

By undergoing a rapid military buildup, Russia also continues its military provocations toward the United States and European nations. Russia’s changing of the status quo by force, such as its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, can never be permitted.

A Russia that abides by international rules and assumes a constructive role would benefit Russia. Japan, in cooperation with the United States, has to continue urging Putin to understand this point, on such occasions as the U.N. General Assembly and the summit talks of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, both scheduled for this autumn.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 23, 2015)

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