Russia-Japan economic cooperation won't solve island dispute

China Military
Zhang Tao

BEIJING, Nov. 28 (ChinaMil) -- The Russia-Japan relation has seen new changes recently. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Putin held talks during the APEC Summit and Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida will visit Russia in early December to discuss with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov about Putin's visit to Japan in mid-December.

After Abe's Russia visit in May this year, Japan and Russia held several rounds of negotiations on settling the territorial dispute over the Southern Kurils (Northern Territories as called by Japan) and promoting economic cooperation.

Analysts said that Japan wants to make overtures to Russia with the economic cooperation program and Russia insists on its stance on territorial sovereignty. The two sides are unlikely to reach a compromise on the territorial issue in the near future.

Russia has stepped up its military presence in the Kuril Islands in recent years, not only building military facilities and sending more troops, but also carrying out several large-scale military exercises there. Russian defense minister Shoigu this year announced the plan to set up a military base on the islands.

The newspaper of Russia's Pacific Fleet reported on November 22 that the Russian army had deployed the advanced shore-based missile system on Kuril Islands. In 2016, the Russian military added a missile battalion equipped with the "Bal" shore-based missile system on those islands, and another missile battalion of the same type is in the works too.

In addition to expanding military presence on the Southern Kurils, Russia also worked harder to develop local economy.

Last year it announced the 10-year development plan for the islands, including plan for the Southern Kurils, according to which Moscow will invest nearly 70 billion roubles ($10.82 billion) in housing, communication, traffic and other infrastructure construction.

Russian leaders also ascended the islands frequently to declare sovereignty.

Over recent years, a number of Russian leaders and high-ranking officials ascended the Southern Kurils despite Japan's objections to announce sovereignty in the name of inspection.

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova reaffirmed in October that according to the results of WWII, the Southern Kurils are Russian territory over which Russia has indisputable sovereignty. Japan has to admit this fact if it wants to see progress on the peace treaty.

Analysts attributed Russia's long-standing firm stance to the following reasons.

First, it wants to keep the post-WWII results. Russia believed its sovereignty over the Kuril Islands was a result of the WWII and denying it would be denying the WWII results. According to the head of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of Russian Academy of Sciences, conceding the Southern Kurils to Japan would mean changing the results of WWII and creating a dangerous precedent in the Far East and the world at large.

Second, there is no mutual trust between Russia and Japan. Japan has been following America's Russia policies for many years, so there is no foundation for trust between it and Russia. Zakharova said increasing mutual trust and mutually beneficial cooperation is an important precondition for the two countries to make progress on the peace treaty.

Meanwhile, the US doesn't want Japan and Russia to get too close. According to the director of Japanese Studies Center at Russian Academy of Sciences, the US plays a very passive role in the Russia-Japan island dispute and always urges Japan to claim the islands, but it wouldn't provide military support to Japan if a war really broke out because of the dispute. The US previously said that its security treaty with Japan doesn't apply to the Southern Kurils.

Third, Russia has to accommodate public opinions. Russia is facing economic difficulties and public support for the government is extremely important. Under such circumstances, the Russian government has to follow the public wishes concerning the island dispute.

Levada Center released a polling result in August that showed that 78% of the respondents were opposed to handing over the Southern Kurils to Japan.

When meeting with Putin in Russia's Sochi in May this year, Abe proposed an economic cooperation package that included eight projects in such areas as energy exploration and industrial rejuvenation in the Far East.

Japan's Kyodo News reported that the Abe administration's Russian investment program is estimated to be worth over one trillion Japanese Yen ($8.93 billion).

Japan's generosity is right in time for Russia that is eager to boost its economy, but Moscow made it clear that as willing as it is to form a friendly relationship with Japan, that has nothing to do with settling the island dispute.

Putin once said that economic cooperation is the current priority in Russia-Japan relations and can create conditions for solving political issues, but Russia won't trade its territory.

This article is written by An Xiaomeng from the Xinhua News Agency in Chinese and published on the PLA Daily, Nov. 28, 2016.


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