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The dispute with Russia is not awarded the exposition

Why Japan did not present the problem of "northern territories" in the museum of territorial disputes

The dispute with Russia is not awarded the exposition

Valery Kistanov

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies
At the end of January, an exhibition sponsored by the Japanese government was opened in Tokyo at the municipality building, which justifies Japanese sovereignty over the islands, over which the country has disputes with China and South Korea. The collection contains historical documents, including maps, letters and newspaper articles, which emphasize the official position of the government, stating that the Senkaku (Diaoyu Islands in China) in the East China Sea and Takeshima (in Korean Dokdo) in the Sea of ​​Japan are an inalienable part of Japanese territory.

Exhibits are accompanied by explanatory texts in Japanese and English. It should be noted, however, that the exhibition takes place at a difficult time of the next aggravation of Japan's relations with China and South Korea, including about the territorial conflicts between these countries. There is no doubt that the exposition will be highly appreciated by Japanese politicians and right-wing organizations.

Around the uninhabited islets of Takeshima / Dokdo, currently controlled by Seoul, there have often been tensions in the past between the South Korean and Japanese governments. The last major incident occurred in 2012, when the then president of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak, visited one of the islets. The visit to the limit heated relations between Tokyo and Seoul. By the way, some Japanese political scientists believe that the South Korean leader dared to take this step, inspired by the example of former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who made the first Russian state visit to the Kurils in 2010.

As you know, the island of Kunashir, which Dmitry Medvedev visited, is part of the four South Kuril Islands, which Japan claims, calling them their own northern territories. The trip of the Russian president to the island, which Japan considers to be its own, caused an outburst of indignation of the official Tokyo. The inadequate response to Medvedev's visit by the Japanese authorities led to the fact that Russian-Japanese relations were at that time collapsed to the lowest point for the entire post-Soviet period. They were straightened only after Vladimir Putin returned to the chair of the country's president in 2012.

Now the Japanese-South Korean relations are again in the aggravation stage in connection with the intention of President of the Republic of Korea, Mr. Moon Zhe In, to reconsider the agreement between Tokyo and Seoul about the so-called women for comfort and comfort. The Japanese side considers the agreement as final and irreversible and does not want to hear about the revision. In connection with the requirements of Seoul, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe until recently thought about even refusing to travel to the South Korean city of Pyeongchang for the opening of the Winter Olympics. However, in the end he will still go to South Korea, but the main purpose of the trip is to dissuade Mun Zhe In of holding his conciliatory policy towards the DPRK. Abe believes that such a policy would violate the united front of pressure on this country in Japan, the United States and South Korea, created to force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear-missile potential.

As for the Japan-South Korea dispute over the Takeshima / Dokdo Islands, Seoul did not fail to recall once again "who is the master of the house," at the banquet on the occasion of the visit to South Korea of ​​American President Donald Trump in November last year, a shrimp dish with indicating that they were caught in the waters of these islands. In this regard, Tokyo said an official protest.

The Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands are controlled by the Japanese government and remain the focus of tension in Japanese-Chinese relations since they attempted to buy them from a private Japanese owner in 2012 by an ardent nationalist - former governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara. Both the last US President, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, have consistently supported Japan in a territorial dispute with China. Beijing, in confirmation of the correctness of its claims to the islands for the past five years, regularly sends to its waters, including its territorial, its ships and aircraft.

The January incident, when the planes of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces recorded a Chinese submarine in an underwater position near Senkaku / Diaoyu-doo, again inflated the situation in Japanese-Chinese relations. In response to the increased Chinese presence in the areas around the disputed islands, Japan relocated part of its armed forces to the south to counter the so-called sea expansion of China.

The exhibition was organized by the Government Office for Planning and Coordination of Policies for Territories and Sovereignty, which, as stated on the organization's website, was created in 2012 "to promote a sound understanding of the relevant facts and position of Japan in the country and abroad regarding territorial integrity of the country ". The government official in charge of the project said: "We intend to keep it open to the public for an indefinite period of time." Tesuma Esaki, the special minister dealing with Japan's territorial conflicts with neighboring countries, reiterated the statement, emphasizing that the goal of the exhibition is to provide the widest possible understanding of the Japanese position in these conflicts, both inside the country and abroad.

South Korea has already condemned the opening of the museum and demanded that Japan close it. "The Japanese government must immediately stop making meaningless claims against Dokdo, who are clearly part of our territory in terms of history, geography and international law," the representative of the South Korean Foreign Ministry said.

By the way, South Korea itself opened a similar museum in the center of Seoul as early as 2012 to reinforce its rights to the Dokdo Islands. In it, visitors can stroll around a large three-dimensional model of islands and get acquainted with video and computerized materials about their history and nature.

In connection with the opening of the territorial museum in Tokyo, a natural question arises as to why it does not have an exposition specifying the validity of the Japanese claims to the four islands of the southern Kurils. It seems that the answer should be sought in the state of the Russian-Japanese territorial problem, which is qualitatively different from Japan's territorial conflicts with China and South Korea. The difference is that in these conflicts, where the parties only exchange mutual claims and accusations and do not have any dialogue, there are absolutely no prospects for their solution (however, as in virtually all other territorial disputes in the world).

Against this background, in the relations between Russia and Japan, thanks to the efforts of their current leaders, attempts have been made in recent years to find a compromise solution to the burdensome bilateral relationship of the territorial problem. Indeed, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe met already two dozen times (if we consider Abe's first prime term in 2006-2007), and in the center of their talks, as the Japanese media say, was always territorial problem. In contrast, the leaders of China and South Korea at their level never discuss with their Japanese counterparts bilateral territorial problems.

After an irreconcilable attitude towards Japan's claims to the southern Kurils, which Dmitry Medvedev held during his stay, Putin's willingness to find a mutually acceptable solution to this problem was very encouraging to Tokyo. It is to Putin that Prime Minister Abe makes a personal bet in solving the problem of the northern territories, promising to return them to the country during the life of the current generation of Japanese. He would very much like to enter the history of the country as a politician who managed to solve a problem that no one before him could have moved from the dead center for more than 70 years after the end of the Second World War. For the sake of this Abe is ready even to go for a certain rapprochement with Russia in the field of economy and other spheres. And this is despite the displeasure of its closest ally - the United States and other Western countries, who have imposed economic and other sanctions on Moscow.

In Japan, it is believed that Putin will win in the election of the Russian president in March of the year 2018, and Abe in the election of the chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in September of that year will be able to secure for the first time in Japan's history a third term as head of the country and extend his stay in the prime minister's office chair until 2021 year. Proceeding from this, the Japanese side intends to continue further attempts to find a solution of a territorial dispute with Russia in the format of the Russian-Japanese tandem of charismatic leaders Putin-Abe. To this end, Prime Minister Abe plans to visit Moscow in May of this year to open the cross years of Russian and Japanese culture, and to St. Petersburg to attend the next international economic forum. He also intends for the third time to attend the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September.

However, Tokyo plans go further. According to the Japan Times, the Japanese government is considering inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to Japan around May 2019 in order to make progress in resolving a territorial dispute over several decades. The newspaper writes that the last time Putin visited Japan in December 2016. This trip was considered a potentially turning point in the dispute over sovereignty over the chain of islands near Hokkaido, which are held by Russia, but claimed by Japan, but it yielded little tangible results. Putin is expected to visit Japan next year in any case to participate in the summit of the leaders of the G20 group. According to the Japan Times, with reference to the words of the government official, Tokyo increasingly believes that the territorial problem "must be advanced as long as Putin, who has stable support at home, remains in power."

According to the newspaper, during the last visit of Putin to Japan, the leaders agreed to start negotiations on implementing joint economic projects on disputed islands in such a way as not to damage the legal positions of each country over sovereignty over disputed territories. According to the publication, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe clearly hopes that his own train to Russia in May this year, coupled with Putin's visit next year, may lead to the launch of joint projects on disputed islands.

However, the newspaper writes, there remains the question as to whether economic cooperation will indeed help resolve the dispute over sovereignty over the islands that prevents Japan and Russia from signing a peace treaty in order to formally end the Second World War. It is expected that Abe will give an invitation to Putin to visit Japan next year during his May visit to Russia. Japanese officials also probe the possibility of holding bilateral high-level talks on the margins of the APEC summit in Papua New Guinea in mid-November this year and the G 20 summit in Argentina at the end of the same month.

At the same time, the influential mouthpiece of the Japanese business community, the Nikkei newspaper, is not sure that the Japanese leader will be able to resolve the territorial dispute with Russia. According to the publication, an insurmountable obstacle to this is the strengthening of Japan's ties with its main and only military-political ally, the United States. At a press conference in Moscow in April 2016, reminds Nikkei, Abe called Putin by name, but the Russian leader adhered to a more formal treatment, using the words "Prime Minister Abe" or "Abe-san." The newspaper also calculated that since then the two leaders have spent less time one-on-one. Their meeting in Moscow in April 2017 lasted 50 minutes, but they only agreed to 20 minutes in Vladivostok in September. Their talks at the APEC summit in Vietnam in November ended within 15 minutes.

Along with this, the newspaper draws attention to the fact that the meeting of the two leaders took place just after the deafening victory of Abe's ruling coalition in the general elections to the Japanese parliament in October last year. Speaking at a press conference before the summit, Putin congratulated Abe with the victory and said that victory created the basis for the two countries in order to "implement all (their) plans." At the meeting, there were no major breakthroughs, but Abe and his advisers were encouraged by Putin's tone, the business publication notes.

It can be assumed that this tone, reflecting the general atmosphere in Russian-Japanese relations, gives Tokyo grounds to rely on Russia's more gentle approaches to the territorial dispute with Japan in comparison with the position of China and South Korea in their own island conflicts with that country. Apparently, not wanting once again to complicate such an atmosphere, the Japanese authorities decided to refrain from holding the above exhibition from an exposition devoted to its claims to the southern Kurils. Indeed, given the fact that Taiwan also claims to the Senkaku / Diaoyudao Islands, in addition to mainland China, Japan has found itself in the semi-circle of territorial disputes with virtually all its neighbors (the other half of the ring is made up of the waters of the Pacific Ocean).

Or maybe in Tokyo they view Russia as the weakest link in the chain of island conflicts between Japan and neighboring countries, grabbing hold of which, you can pull the whole chain?
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