Diplomacy

Not So Quiet on the Northern Front

Friday, October 1, 2010

Medvedev in China

Tokyo -- Just as the volume is finally being dialed down on Japan's southern island dispute with China and Taiwan, the "Northern Territories" issue has suddenly flared up.

The so-called Northern Territories consist of the islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan, and the Habomai rocks, which the Soviet Union seized from Japan in 1945.

The latest diplomatic crisis was sparked by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's tour of the easternmost section of his country and his comments that the four islands represent "a very important region in our country."

The Russian leader was planning to travel to two of the islands until, it is said, weather conditions forced a change in his itinerary. Medvedev, however, has confirmed that he still plans to visit the islands "in the near future."

These Russian moves provoked sharp words from hawkish Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, who declared, "If the president goes ahead with his visit, it would create a major obstacle in Japan-Russia relations."

The Japanese Foreign Ministry then filed an official protest with their Russian counterparts.

Maehara also complained about Monday's joint statement between Russia and China issued in reference to the 65th anniversary of Japan's defeat in the Pacific War, saying that Russia shouldn't "play up" the anniversary together with a "third party."

"It is extremely regrettable that Russia jointly issued the statement with China when as long as sixty-five years have passed since the end of the war," Maehara said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry subsequently responded to Maehara as follows: "The president of the Russian Federation independently determines the routes of his trips on the territory of his country... Any advice in this respect is inappropriate and unacceptable."

The Russian Foreign Ministry added that Tokyo should "avoid repeating dead-end positions" on territorial issues.

Coincidentally, the Chinese Foreign Ministry also criticized Maehara today, saying that Japan should "stop making irresponsible remarks and safeguard the larger interests of bilateral relations with concrete actions."

This is thought to be a response to Maehara's outburst that the recent Senkaku crisis "showed the people of the world an aspect of China's true nature."

The official position of the Japanese government remains that "territorial issues do not exist" in the region, presumably because Tokyo's legal arguments are thought to be utterly unassailable - at least by the Japanese themselves.


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