Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Japan Needs Strategic Thinking to Resolve its Territorial Dispute with Russia
ISHIGOOKA Ken / Journalist

June 28, 2016
2015 marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and 2016 was the 60th year since Japan reestablished diplomatic relations with Russia (former Soviet Union). Even so, Japan and Russia have yet to sign a peace treaty that would signify the end of WWII. We are in an awkward situation of being technically still at war. The territorial issue has been the greatest obstacle that lies between Japan and Russia.

Japan claims that the Chishima (Kurile) Islands had always been Japanese territory, and that Russia (initially, the Soviet Union) has unjustly and unlawfully occupied indigenous Japanese territory since the end of the war. Russia meanwhile says the islands were added to Soviet territory during talks between Allied nations aimed at ensuring order after WWII, and that it was a straightforward consequence of postwar settlement agreed to by the Allied Powers. Their conflicting claims reflect differences in thinking and interpretation concerning postwar settlement and in historical perception regarding the war itself, which boils down to the difference between the victor and the vanquished.

Both countries recognize the abnormality of the situation. Yet, that awareness has not led to a solution. In other words, this explains the irony that the absence of a peace treaty is of little consequence to either country. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev once said: "The Soviet Union can live without Japan. Japan can live without the Soviet Union. Therefore, improving the bilateral relationship would require a great effort."

Summarizing the bilateral relationship, Professor Sergey Chugrov of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations has also pointed out that "both Moscow and Tokyo are undecided on the strategic significance of the Japan-Russo relationship." The two countries become easily caught up in the trivial issue of how many islands should or should not be returned, since both sides lack a national strategy that sets the bilateral relationship within the big picture. That is why talks for a peace treaty and the territorial issue remain unresolved. Professor Chugrov probably has a point. We would be hard-pressed to describe either Japan or Russia as being highly motivated towards achieving a breakthrough, and in reality neither the peace treaty nor the territorial issue are high on their respective national agenda.

It was under these circumstances that Japan's Prime Minister Abe Shinzo visited Russia in May to meet with President Vladimir Putin. Traditionally, Russians showed little interest in top-level meetings with Japan and didn't pay much attention. But things were different this time around. Questions surrounding the "significance of the summit meeting" quickly led to a heated discussion. The growing presence of China loomed large in the background. There emerged the possibility of a strategic dialogue between Japan and Russia on how they should collectively approach the China issue.

Unlike past Japanese leaders, Prime Minister Abe is an unusual politician whose actions are based on strategic thinking. We could say he was the first prime minister in the postwar period who thinks in terms of Japan's unique strategy. At least that is how Russia has begun to see him. There were Russian media reports explaining how "Prime Minister Abe had come to the summit meeting at the risk of breaching the sanctions imposed on Russia by the G7 countries." One Japan expert commented that "Japan was attempting to use the 'Russia card' on both the United States and China."

In the coming years, China's rapid rise to superpower status will be the greatest issue facing East Asia. The time has come to consider all available options and prepare a response. Seen from another angle, we could say that the global order established after World War II is beginning to break down in East Asia as it has done elsewhere. We have entered an era that requires us to review and reconstruct international relations in a new light, without being inhibited by the existing order or past rivalries. The times have given rise to a new need to think about long-term national strategy, without becoming caught up in short-term interests or sentiments. It is within this multidimensional equation that we should seek a solution to problems posed by the Japan-Russo peace treaty and the northern territories issue. Once we move beyond the limited confines of the bilateral relationship and start thinking within the context of multilateral relationships, we should be able to arrive at a compromise solution that is acceptable to both Japan and Russia.

Ken Ishigooka is a journalist and former special editor of the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

石郷岡 建 / ジャーナリスト

2016年 6月 28日







一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Japan Needs Strategic Thinking to Resolve its Territorial Dispute with Russia