Talk of joint Kuril control deal
One of the few Russian Kuril settlements. Source: Wikimedia
The Nikkei Asian Review has reported that Tokyo and Moscow were holding talks over potentially sharing administration of the disputed Kuril Islands.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he wants to resolve the long-standing dispute over the Kuril Islands, which dates back to August 1945. Japanese and Russian government sources were quoted saying the idea of jointly administering the territories was proposed by Abe during his Russian visit in May.
Abe told Japan’s Diet that he would “resolve the territorial issue, end the abnormal situation in which no peace treaty has been concluded even 71 years after the war and cultivate the major possibility of Japan-Russia cooperation in areas such as the economy and energy”.
But the Japanese foreign ministry denied the proposal. “We deny the Nikkei report that Japan and Russia are discussing the joint administration of the Northern Territories,” Yasuhira Kawamura, a ministry spokesperson, told Reuters. “There is no change in Japan’s fundamental position that Japan will conclude the peace treaty with Russia by resolving the issue of the possession of the four northern islands.”
Tokyo declared that its strategy was to sign a peace treaty to recognise the rights of Russia to the islands of Shikotan and Habomai, as set down in the Soviet-Japanese Declaration of 1956.
The Kurils are part of an island chain that runs from Japanese Hokkaido to Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula in the Sea of Okhotsk.
Abe’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also rejected the Nikkei story, according to the Japan Times.
A joint administration would be difficult for Abe to sell to the electorate, which might demand full sovereignty of the islands.
Meanwhile, Russia’s ongoing isolation from the west following its annexation of Crimea and support for eastern Ukraine separatists from 2014 has pushed it to look for allies in the Pacific. Japan has restrained its engagement with Russia and imposed sanctions, cutting the momentum in bilateral relations since 2013, when high-level talks on the Kurils appeared to be making progress.
President Vladimir Putin is also boosting ties with China, causing Abe to fear the two giants uniting against Japan, with his cabinet now including Hiroshige Seko, the minister of economy, trade and industry, who will be focused on economic cooperation with Russia.
Abe and Putin are due to meet in mid-December in Japan.