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

Building A New Relationship Between Japan and Russia
HYODO Nagao / Professor of Tokyo Keizai University

September 17, 2001
This month, a ceremony took place to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, by which Japan formally put an end to World War II and joined the post-war international community. However, more than half a century after the war, Japan is still very much the focus of attention both domestically and internationally regarding its history textbooks, its Prime Minister's homage to Yasukuni Shrine and its treatment of former prisoners of war. These issues are the legacy of World War II in which Japan's stance as the wrongdoer is being seriously questioned.

Meanwhile, there is also a legacy of World War II in which Japan was the victim, which is easily forgotten in the shadow of its other legacy. And that is the issue involving the former Soviet Union. While international recognition has grown for the Northern Territories issue, a very little known fact is that the Soviet Union entered the war six days before Japan's surrender and after the end of the war took 600,000 Japanese soldiers to forced labor camps within Soviet territory as prisoners, 60,000 of whom died under severe labor conditions. On these two issues, the Soviet Union had maintained a high-handed, rigid stance as a victor nation, creating a major obstacle to the development of a relationship of trust between Japan and the Soviet Union.

However, the situation began to improve significantly as the then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev began pursuing his "New Thinking" diplomacy. During his visit to Japan in 1991 - the first by a Soviet leader - President Gorbachev demonstrated a positive attitude towards resolving the title of the four islands in question and signing a peace treaty - in the first admission that a territorial issue existed - and went on to meet Japanese representatives of former Siberian POWs.

As the new era of the Russian Federation began, President Boris Yeltsin visited Japan in 1993 and signed the Tokyo Declaration, which defined the principle of resolving territorial issues on the basis of "law and justice." Furthermore, though unofficial, President Yeltsin expressed his heartfelt regrets towards former Siberian POWs.

These developments had epochal significance for Japan's relationship with the Soviet Union and later Russia, which had remained locked in a long cold winter. For the Japanese people, the Northern Territories issue is indeed one in which "law and justice" is should prevail. Since then, negotiations have continued to this day with no concrete solutions in sight. While I am concerned that the Japanese government may be too hasty in its approach in conducting recent negotiations, I am not pessimistic about the future of these territorial negotiations.

There is no doubt that Russia is a beneficial neighbor for Japan's development in the 21st century, and similarly, or even more so, Japan is for Russia a valuable neighbor. The scope of possible cooperation between the two countries in the Asia-Pacific and the Far East regions is expected to expand significantly. There is no way that President Vladimir Putin, with his hardheaded, utilitarian diplomacy, would overlook such an opportunity.

Having been involved with negotiations with the Russians for years, I believe that it is most important to maintain a resolute and unshakable stance, along with utmost sincerity. This is applicable to diplomatic relations with any country. If Japan as a victim expects Russia to demonstrate sincerity, we as the wrongdoer should also demonstrate sincerity in the difficult issues involving our neighbors.

The writer is Professor of Tokyo Keizai University. He is a former Ambassador to Belgium.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

兵藤 長雄 / 東京経済大学教授

2001年 9月 17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) > Building A New Relationship Between Japan and Russia