News Navigator: Will the Northern Territories issue be settled?
Vladimir Putin has returned as president of Russia after four years. The Mainichi answers common questions readers may have about the outlook for the Northern Territories issue between Russia and Japan.
Question: Expectations for a settlement of the Northern Territories issue have strengthened since the return of Putin to presidency, but why?
Answer: Putin, also president from 2000 to 2008, is known as being friendly towards Japan, having judo as a hobby and maintaining close relations with former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. In March, at a press conference with the foreign media, he said that he wanted to conclude the issue in a way that was acceptable for both Russia and Japan.
Q: Is this stance different from that of the previous president?
A: Dmitry Medvedev, who was president from 2008 until this year, was the first Russian leader to visit the Northern Territories, and is said to have chilled Russia-Japan relations to their worst level since the end of the Cold War. Not counting international conferences, visits between the two countries by their leaders have not occurred since the Democratic Party of Japan took hold of power in Japan in 2009. One high-ranking official from Japan's Foreign Affairs Ministry commented, "Mr. Medvedev didn't do anything good for Japan."
Q: Did talks on the Northern Territories issue make progress when Putin was last president?
A: In Sept. 2000, when Putin visited Japan, he became the first Russian leader to recognize the validity of the 1956 Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration in which it was agreed that the Habomai Islands and Shikotan Island would be handed over to Japan after the signing of a peace treaty. In a meeting with Mori in March 2001, Putin signed the Irkutsk Statement, which confirmed that the Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration was a legal document and the basis and start of negotiations on the Northern Territories issue. Based on the 1993 Tokyo Declaration signed by the leaders of both countries, the statement also called to resolve the issue of which country the islands including Etorofu and Kunashiri belong to and advance negotiations on establishing a peace treaty.
Q: So that means there will be talks on returning the four islands to Japan, right?
A: No, it's not that simple. At the news conference in March, although Putin said that he was prepared to return to the Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration, he also noted that Japan wanted the four islands back and then the peace treaty, but that was not what was agreed to in the 1956 joint declaration. He has strongly hinted that he wants to end the issue with a return of the Habomai Islands and Shikotan Island.
Q: Even though he is the same person who signed the Irkutsk Statement?
A: Although the statement brings up the four islands, Putin has never mentioned returning more than the Habomai and Shikotan Islands. Although he has put the other islands on the table for discussion, he has adopted a stance of not comprising on them. At the news conference, Putin used a Japanese term meaning "a draw" in reference to the issue, and he is calling on the Japanese government, which is trying to have the four islands recognized as the territory of Japan, to compromise. However, as compromise on territorial issues exposes a country to strong domestic criticism, negotiations between the two countries look difficult. (Answers by Shinichiro Nishida, Political News Department)
June 21, 2012(Mainichi Japan)