Japan closer to Kuril islands deal

Japan closer to Kuril islands deal

The Kuril islands are one of the world’s more remote spots. Source: Flickr

Tokyo appears to have shifted its long-standing position on the return of four Kuril islands, Russian newspaper Vzglyad reported. 

Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was quoted saying that he was open to consider a range of options for the Pacific islands seized by the Red Army in the final days of the Second World War after Tokyo surrendered.

Kishida repeated first deputy Nobuo Kishi’s stance that Japan was ready to listen to Russia’s proposals, including taking back just two of the islands.

It has been proposed that Russia could transfer formal ownership to Japan and maintain a permanent, no-cost lease on its military bases. Moscow could thus maintain a military presence. Alternatively, Japan and Russia could each take one large island.

“I think Vice-Minister Kishi’s statement stands to reason taking into account the fact that the parties to the negotiations have different positions and that the debate is based on a wide range of options,” Kishida told the media in Tokyo.

He said the Japanese should accept that a complete return was unlikely and it was possible only two of the four islands would be handed back. He also said that Japan would recognise the permanent right of residence for the 17,000 Russians living on the islands.

Russia is struggling under severe international sanctions imposed in response to the 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for eastern Ukrainian separatists. Combined with reduced fuel prices, Moscow is in need of investment from Tokyo.

Meanwhile, Japan fears the growing aggression of China and is aware that Washington is increasingly unwilling to take on any more foreign military commitments.

Improved ties with Japan could also help Russia extract more from its relationship with China, which has exploited Moscow’s relative isolation to get highly favourable long-term deals on gas pipelines and regional integration.

Former Russian ambassador in Tokyo Alexander Panov said that polling suggested that more than half of the Japanese would accept the return of only two of the islands.

“It is possible that Nobuo Kishi’s statements are aimed at learning the public opinion and possible negative reaction to such compromise. However, it is undeniable that Japan has changed its long-standing position on the non-recurrent return of the four islands,” Panov reportedly told Vzglyad.

Japan and Russia never signed a permanent peace treaty after the Second World War due to the disagreement over what Russia calls the Southern Kurils and Japan the Northern Territories in the Sea of Okhotsk.

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