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

Five Reasons to Take Putin’s Suggestion Seriously
HANABUSA Masamichi / Former Ambassador to Italy

September 28, 2018
President Putin’s seemingly offhand suggestion to conclude a Japan-Russia Peace Treaty without any preconditions by the end of this year seems to have met overwhelming opposition or, at best, skepticism in Japan. This writer, however, considers that his suggestion is worth some serious thinking over. Of course, this is on the assumption that the Habomai Islands and Shikotan would be returned to Japan upon the conclusions of the Peace Treaty.

The following are my five reasons for taking his suggestion seriously.

Firstly, in all candor and braving criticism, I venture to say that this territorial issue has in fact become a matter of “face” for Japan, which is anxious not to lose the legal position it has held up to the present. Is Putin’s suggestion designed to make Japan give up its irredentism legally through the conclusion of the Peace Treaty? As a litmus test to gauge Putin’s intention, I wish to propose a possible Japanese response. It is to include in the Peace Treaty a clause stipulating that the final status of Kunashiri and Etorofu should be decided by a referendum of the inhabitants after say 50(or 100?) years and that, in case the two governments fail to agree on the holding of such a referendum, the clause shall be automatically renewed. The normalization of the relations between Japan and Russia based on this compromise would usher in a better economic and political relationship, since apart from this territorial issue no serious conflict of national interests exists between the two countries. It would also be politically significant as rapprochement between Japan and Russia might put a brake on further deepening of the Russia-China partnership.

Secondly, the present situation in the two islands seems to resemble that of Japan’s marginalized remote islands, exacerbated by the cold and harsh climatic conditions. How would rational economic development of the islands be conceivable? When Japan itself is faced with increasing labor shortage due to declining birth rates, would many Japanese be interested in moving to the islands for some viable economic activities? On the Japanese side, these questions should be considered a little more realistically and judiciously.

Thirdly, the writer cannot agree to the view that the conclusion of the Peace Treaty would deprive Japan of whatever little negotiating leverage left towards the return of these islands. It must be pointed out, in this connection, that Prime Minister Abe changed the negotiation tack from the traditional insistence of Japan’s righteous legal position to the one seeking the return of the islands through the betterment of the bilateral relations following the conclusion of the Peace Treaty. In my view, this reflected the realistic realization on the Japanese side that its single leverage of refusing to conclude the peace treaty in the absence of the return of the islands had not brought about the change of the Soviet/Russian attitude. If President Putin were to regard the conclusion of the Peace Treaty as “the objective fully achieved”, I would say that there had not existed from the beginning any concrete basis for good Japan-Russia relations. As Russia needs to shift its gravity from Europe to Asia, such a judgment, which would negate the possible benefits accruing from mutually beneficial Japan-Russia relations, would not be in the interest of Russia.

Fourthly, Russia is on the demanding side as to Japan’s active participation in the development of the Northern Islands and Siberia. It would be more realistic to expect that once Japan plays the card of signing the Peace Treaty, the Russian side must come up with more attractive conditions to woo the reluctant Japanese business community.

Fifthly, if Japan’s relations with Russia are stabilized due to the conclusion of the Peace Treaty, Japan may be more dynamically involved with the economic activities in these islands, which may mean more Japanese moving into these islands and the present inhabitants of the islands becoming more favorably disposed towards Japan. The new situation may bring about a change in the composition of islands’ inhabitants over a long span of time like 50 or 100 years in the future, which in turn may affect their preference regarding the islands’ future.

Prime Minister Abe and President Putin, who have built good personal rapport, are sure to stay in power for a few years to come. If they fail to conclude a Peace Treaty because of various domestic oppositions, Japan and Russia will be disappointing themselves as two nations incapable of conceiving a grand future design together. I hope that President Putin would be forthcoming to accept a compromise formula which saves Japan’s face. In the same vein, I earnestly hope that the Japanese people would overcome their emotional repulsion against Russia and dispassionately see the balance of interests as mentioned above.

Masamichi Hanabusa is Emeritus Chairman of ESUJ.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

英 正道 / 元駐伊大使

2018年 9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) > Five Reasons to Take Putin’s Suggestion Seriously