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Editorial: Japan must revise Russia policy after peace treaty talks abruptly halted

The Russian government has abruptly told Tokyo that it's suspending negotiations for a postwar peace treaty with Japan. Moscow also announced a halt to discussions over Japan-Russia joint economic activities in the disputed Northern Territories off Hokkaido, as well as for a visa-free program for former residents of the Russian-held, Japan-claimed islands, whose objectives included visiting their family graves. These decisions are nothing but selfish and irrational.

    It's obvious Russia's handling of the matter is retaliation against Japan over the latter's economic sanctions in cooperation with Western nations following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. What is even more absurd is that the Russian government claims that Japan bears responsibility for Moscow's actions, saying that Tokyo consciously chose the anti-Russia path.

    Needless to say, the situation that Russia is currently facing arises only from its own doing, which is an atrocious act of aggression. Moscow's actions equate to a straw man argument and are irrational and blame-shifting. It's only natural that Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida strongly protested Russia's move, calling it "extremely unreasonable and totally unacceptable."

    While Kishida stated that Japan's basic stance of resolving the Northern Territories dispute and concluding a peace treaty hasn't changed, it's certain now that resolving the territorial dispute will become even more difficult.

    At the same time, there is a need to examine and sum up the Japanese government's past responses over the matter. In particular, territorial negotiations during the administration of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have left numerous problems.

    Abe met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin a total of 27 times while he was in office, apparently wanting to cement his name in history as achieving the return of the Northern Territories to Japan. He undermined Japan's long-held demand to have all of the four islands placed under Tokyo's control, and instead shifted to a policy of having two of the islets returned.

    Furthermore, Abe even sealed off Japan's established claim held by successive administrations that the four islands off Hokkaido are "inherent territories of Japan" and continue to be "illegally occupied" by the former Soviet Union just to get a compromise from Russia. It was a concession that could have been taken by the international community that Japan allowed Russia to rule by force.

    We must not forget, even with such significant compromises on Japan's part, negotiations over the Northern Territories didn't advance. On the contrary, Russia implemented a ban on activities leading to the ceding of territory as a general rule by amending its Constitution in 2020, ignoring Japan's position.

    Prime Minister Kishida has recently shifted Japan's claim back to what it used to be, using words such as the "illegal occupation" of the Northern Territories, but it might have come too late. His administration must go back to the basic principle of law and justice and rebuild Japan's policy on Russia.

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